Category Archives: Poems

Seven Whole Days: The Complete Set

Let There Be Light

Let There Be Light

Unending blue wherein we long to fly

Unending blue wherein we long to fly

Barley Sheaves grow golden in the field

Barley Sheaves grow golden in the field

The lucid moon and sun

The lucid moon and sun

 

 

 

 

 

Last week I posted my new sequence of prayer-roundels, giving thanks for the days of creation, one day at a time. It may be that some people would like to read or use them as a single sequence, either for private devotion or as part of a service focussed on God’s goodness in creation, so I am putting them all together as one sequence in this post for those who would like to use them in this way. These poems will be gathered together with others in ‘Parable and Paradox’ my next book of poetry, to be published by Canterbury Press in the summer of 2016. If you would like to use these poems or print them in a church bulletin/order of service feel free to do so, but if they are printed please add that they are used with the author’s permission and that they will be available in a book from Canterbury Press in 2016. You might also include the web address of this blog. Thank you. You can hear me red the poems by clicking on the roman Numeral or the ‘play’ button

Seven Whole Days

 

Seven whole days, not one in seven,

I will praise thee   George Herbert

 


I

Let there be light as I begin this day

To draw me from the darkness and the night,

To bless my flesh, to clear and show my way

Let there be light

 

Strong in the depth and shining from the height,

Evening  and morning’s interplay,

Blessing and enabling my sight.

 

Lighten my soul and teach me how to pray,

Lighten my mind and teach me wrong from right,

In all I do and think and see and say

Let there be light.

 

 


II

The firmament, the vast curve of the sky

The breath and weave of every element

Unending blue, wherein we long to fly,

The firmament.

 

Your Love has pitched the heavens like a tent

And delved the depth where hidden treasures lie,

From whose rich womb our life has its ascent.

 

Out of those depths I hear my spirit cry

As height and depth give praise with one assent

To that great form that orders low and high;

The firmament.

 

 


III

 

The earth will yield her still-unfolding seed,

And barley sheaves grow golden in the field,

The vineyard and the fruit trees, all we need

The earth will yield.

 

A soft wind sends the summer through the weald,

In valley folds the sheep and cattle feed.

The shoreline shines, Your wonders are revealed,

 

The waters are unbound, the ocean freed

To thunder praise, in whose depths are concealed

Your mysteries. Your praise in word and deed

The earth will yield.

 

 


IV

Lights in the night, the lucid moon and sun,

The lesser and the greater share your light

And lift my heart to you when day is done,

Lights in the night.

 

And lonely souls are gladdened by the sight,

For those who dwell in darkness hope is born.

The scattered stars still tingle with delight

 

Treading the dance, the seasons in their turn

Salute the lights of heaven in their flight.

In our dark hearts your praises shine and burn;

Lights in the night.

 


V

 

With open wings a seagull skims the spray,

Sounding the depth below, a great whale sings,

Your Spirit moves amongst them as they play

With open wings.

 

Now open me to all your Spirit brings,

Move in me too as I begin to pray,

That love may ripple out in shining rings.

 

Speak to my soul through all you made this day,

Through all that swims and flies and swoops and swings,

And let your Spirit lift the words I say

With open wings.

 

 


VI

 

You made us new and beautiful today

Your Spirit softened us like morning dew,

Your Image shining from us through the clay,

You made us new.

 

You woke us and we knew ourselves in you

We walked together at the close of day

You trusted us and called us to be true.

 

When we forsook your love, and turned away

You came and sought us, where we hid from you

And on the cross, in darkness, on this day

You made us new.

 


VII

Blessing and rest, delight in everything

Sustained by your strong love and richly blest

This is the the gift you give, the day you bring

Blessing and rest.

 

This is indeed ‘the gladness of the best’,

From first lines in the east where linnets sing,

To where the last light lingers in the west,

 

You lift the cares to which I used to cling,

As you yourself descend to be my guest

And show me how to find in everything

Blessing and rest.

 

 

a seagull skims the spray

a seagull skims the spray

you made us new and beautiful today

you made us new and beautiful today

Where Linnets Sing

Where Linnets Sing

Blessing and Rest, Delight in everything

Blessing and Rest, Delight in everything

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Seven Whole Days: The Seventh Day; Blessing and Rest

Blessing and Rest, Delight in everything

Blessing and Rest, Delight in everything

Here is the last in my little round of seven Roundels for the primal week in Genesis Chapter One. Today we enter the Sabbath, the blessed rest in which God contemplates his own creation with delight and love and pronounces it good, a sabbath which he also graciously invites us to share with him. Sabbath is always a sheer gift whenever and wherever we keep it, a gift more and more need in our pressurised 24/7 world. So here is my roundel celebrating that blessing and rest. as before it is preceded by the verses in Genesis ( in this case chapter 2 verses 1-3) that inspired it and, as before, you can hear it by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the Roman Numeral. If you have enjoyed these poems and want to use them for a church or prayer group please feel free to do so. Feel free to reproduce them in a bulletin etc. but if you do so could you add that they will be published next year in my forthcoming book of poetry: Parable and Paradox, published by Canterbury Press. Tomorrow I will publish the whole sequence as a single post which may be more convenient for those who want to use them in services etc.

Chapter 2:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

VII

 

Blessing and rest, delight in everything

Sustained by your strong love and richly blest,

This is the the gift you give, the day you bring

Blessing and rest.

 

This is indeed the ‘gladness of the best’,

From first lines in the east where linnets sing,

To where the last light lingers in the west,

 

You lift the cares to which I used to cling,

As you yourself descend to be my guest

And show me how to find in everything

Blessing and rest.

Where Linnets Sing

Where Linnets Sing

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Seven Whole Days: The Sixth Day; Humanity

you made us new and beautiful today

you made us new and beautiful today

We come now to the Sixth Day in the Primal week of Genesis Chapter One, the day on which we are invited to contemplate the mystery of our own creation and of our being made in the image of God. Furthermore, because the  Sixth Day is a Friday, we are moved as Christians to think of God’s loving response to our fall, of how, as Newman put it, ‘ a second Adam to the fight, and to the rescue came’. I have tried to gather some of these thoughts into the little roundel which is my reflection on this day. As before I have given you the Genesis passage to which my poem is a response and also enabled you to hear me read the poem by either clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the Roman Numeral. These poems will be gathered together with others in ‘Parable and Paradox’ my next book of poetry, to be published by Canterbury Press in the summer of 2016.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.


VI

 

You made us new and beautiful today,

Your Spirit softened us like morning dew,

Your Image shining from us through the clay,

You made us new.

 

You woke us and we knew ourselves in you,

We walked together at the close of day,

You trusted us and called us to be true.

 

When we forsook your love and turned away

You came and sought us where we hid from you,

And on the cross, in darkness, on this day

You made us new.

You came and sought us where we hid from you

You came and sought us where we hid from you

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A Sonnet for the Feast of the Transfiguration

Transfiguration by Rebecca Merry

Continuing my series of sonnets ‘Sounding the Seasons’ of the Church’s year, here is a sonnet for the feast of the Transfiguration. This is the day when we remember how the Disciples, even before they went to Jerusalem to face his trials with him, had a glimpse of Christ in his true glory. The Transfiguration is usually celebrated on August 6th, but sometimes on the Sunday nearest.

The transfiguration is also sometimes remembered just before Lent, which is a good time for it too, as I believe the glimpse of glory in Christ they saw on the mount of the Transfiguration was given in order to sustain the disciples through darkness of Good Friday. Indeed it is for a disciple, looking back at the transfiguration from Good Friday, that I have voiced the poem.

I am honoured to have had my work interpreted by two other Cambridge artists. The painting above is artist Rebecca Merry‘s response to the poem. Rebecca is well known for her paintings in egg tempora and in responding to this ‘iconic’ moment in the life of Christ she has drawn on her training in icon painting. She writes:

I wanted to stay with the idea of the circle for an important event in the life of Christ, and the theme of cycle and circle that is a theme of your book – the changing of the seasons, the unchanging nature of God. Underneath is the circle and the cross, a symbol also in Egyptian hieroglyphs of the city but of course the cross (or crucifix) is the meeting point of two worlds, heaven and earth, and the division of the upper circle as light and the lower as dark also symbolises this. The red is a recurrent themes of all the illustrations but here it implies Christ’s blood (and sacrifice) but also the life blood and life giver that God/Christ is to us all, giving light to the world.

The photograph which appears after the poem is by the Photographer Margot Krebs Neale. Margot has responded to the idea in the poem that the light of transfiguration is also kindled in us a response to Christ’s light. She writes:

As a person and as a photographer I so wish I could catch “the Love that dances at the heart of things”, and to have seen it not its reflection but the very Love in a human face…Imagine.

Well it was immediately clear I could not count on my work. But then, the light in us that leaps to that light, that trembles and tingles through the tender skin, I believe I witness that.

I am not sure what brought this smile on my friend’s face but I believe it had to do with her being seen, valued, loved. A camera is a light-box, and if I concentrate on them some people feel that it is their light and the light which I try to crystallise and they let them shine together.

I am very grateful to both of them. As always please feel free to copy or use the poem in prayer or liturgy; you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button or clicking on its title.

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 also available in Canada via Steve Bell. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these 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.

Transfiguration

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

Photograph by Margot Krebs Neale

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I Am the Bread of Life

I Am the Bread of Life

I Am the Bread of Life

The reading this Sunday, in the Common Lectionary, shared by so many churches, is from John 6: 24-35, and ends with the nourishing  ‘I Am’ saying:

‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’.

Indeed the whole of that chapter in John is a series of reflections stories, meditations, and scriptural allusions to bring out the myriad senes in which Jesus is the Bread of Life. As it happens I am working on a sequence of sonnets on the seven ‘I Am’ sayings which are threaded like pearls through John’s Gospel, so in case it is helpful for those preparing to preach this Sunday, I am posting my sonnet on this saying in advance. This poem will eventually appear in my next poetry book ‘Parable and Paradox’ to be published by Canterbury Press next year. As always you can hear me read the poem by pressing on the play button or clicking on the title.

I Am the Bread of Life

 

35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

 

Where to get bread? An ever-pressing question

That trembles on the lips of anxious mothers,

Bread for their families, bread for all these others;

A whole world on the margin of exhaustion.

And where that hunger has been satisfied

Where to get bread? The question still returns

In our abundance something starves and yearns

We crave fulfillment, crave and are denied.

 

And then comes One who speaks into our needs

Who opens out the secret hopes we cherish

Whose presence calls our hidden hearts to flourish

Whose words unfold in us like living seeds

Come to me, broken, hungry, incomplete,

I Am the Bread of Life, break Me and eat.

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Mary, Martha and Lazarus

Today the church remembers Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, the family at Bethany who became close friends with Jesus and whose stories became intimately bound up with his.

John 12 1-8 tells us of how Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus.I love this intense and beautiful moment in the Gospels, The God of the Cosmos enters as a vulnerable man into all the particular fragility of our human friendships and intimacy. I love the way Jesus responds to Mary’s beautiful, useless gesture and recognises it as something that is always worth while, something that will live forever, for all the carping and criticism of Judas, then and now.

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 also now available in Canada via Steve Bell‘s Signpost Music. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these 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.

I am grateful to Oliver Neale for the image above and to Margot Krebs Neale for the one below. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

The Anointing at Bethany

Come close with Mary, Martha , Lazarus
So close the candles stir with their soft breath
And kindle heart and soul to flame within us
Lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement
In quietness and intimate encounter
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
Is broken open for the world’s true lover,

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
Here at the very centre of all things,
Here at the meeting place of love and loss
We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

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Coleridge comes to bless my study!

 

Coleridge's self-composed epitaph

Coleridge’s self-composed epitaph

Today I returned from the framers with a charcoal rubbing taken from Coleridge’s gravestone of his beautiful epitaph, all clearly mounted and ready to hang in my new study in Linton, the last picture to go up. It was only as I unwrapped it that I realised that today, July 25th, is the anniversary of his death, no better day to  to set this poem above my desk and give thanks for all he means to me, to pray for him as his epitaph asks, and to invoke his blessing on my own efforts to receive his insights and interpret them for a new generation.!

I have signed a contract with Hodder and Stoughton to write a new book, which will be called Mariner! A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and will be published in the spring of 2017, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Coleridge’s seminal book Biographia Literaria, and also the first full collection of his poems Sybilline Leaves. My book will tell Coleridge’s story through the lens of his own great poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem which was uncannily prophetic not only of Coleridge’s own life, but of our own history and culture. My book will try both to show the vital thread of Christian thought and witness that runs through Coleridge’s life and writing and also the startling relevance of that life and writing to the challenges of the 21st century.

I could not begin to reckon the personal debt I owe to Coleridge; for his poetry, for his personal and Christian wisdom, above all for his brilliant exploration and defence of the poetic imagination as a truth-bearing faculty which participates in, and is redeemed by the Logos, the living Word, himself the Divine Imagination. We are only now coming to appreciate the depth and range of what he achieved. His contemporaries scarcely understood him, and his Victorian successors looked down in judgement at what they saw as the shipwreck of his life. Something of that experience of rejection, twinned with deep Christian conviction, can be seen in the epitaph he wrote for himself:

Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!

From my teenage raptures when I was first enchanted by Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner, to my struggles and adventures in the middle of life STC has been my companion and guide. In the chapter on Coleridge in my book Faith Hope and Poetry I have set out an account of his thinking and made the case for his central importance in our own age, but what I offer here is a sonnet celebrating his legacy, drawing on that epitaph I mentioned above, one of a sequence of sonnets on my fellow christians in my most recent book The Singing Bowl,  published by the Canterbury Press.

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

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!’

You made your epitaph imperative,

And stopped this wedding guest! But I am glad

To stop with you and start again, to live

From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,

Whose living power is imagination,

And know myself a child of the I AM,

Open and loving to his whole creation.

Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,

To let his light transfigure all my seeing,

To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,

And make with him the poem of my being.

I follow where you sail towards our haven,

Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

Steve Bell captured me in ancient mariner mode!

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