Tag Archives: Bible

Hidden Joys: A Sonnet for the Visitation

The feast of the Visitation usually falls on the 31st of May, but this year it was displaced from that date by the great feast of Pentecost, and so we keep it on the 1st of June instead. It is in fact very fitting to remember the visitation on the day after Pentecost, for it is a perfect example of the vivifying and prophetic work of God the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Visitation celebrates the lovely moment in Luke’s Gospel (1:41-56) when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also, against all expectations, bearing a child, the child who would be John the Baptist. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon them, and that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaped for joy’ when he heard Mary’s voice, and it is even as the older woman blesses the younger, that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat, the most beautiful and revolutionary hymn in the world. There is much for the modern world to ponder in this tale of God’s blessing and prophecy on and from the margins, and I have tried to tease a little of it out in this sonnet. I am grateful again to Margot Krebs Neale for her inspiring image, and , as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the 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 . 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..

The Visitation

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys

Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place

From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise

And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things

Unnoticed and unknown to men of power

But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings

And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,

Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’

They sing today for all the great unsung

Women who turned eternity to time

Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth

Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.

 

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The 13th poem in my Corona on the Psalms: A Song of Sudden Hope

who drank the bitter cup and in so doing made it flow with wine

Psalm 13 is one of the shortest in the whole psalter, and although it starts in distress there is a sudden welling of hope and renewal in the last two verses, as grief turns to grace and the heart is once more joyful, a pattern I have reflected in my poem. As with the other poems in this Corona sequence, I seek once more to draw out how the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection is hidden in the pattern of the psalms.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poem.

XIII Usque quo, Domine?

Come down to free us, come as our true friend,

How long, how long? Oh do not hide your face

Or let me sleep in death, but light my end,

 

Till it becomes a bright beginning. Place

Your wounded hands in mine and raise me up

That even grief itself may turn to grace.

 

Then I will sing a song of sudden hope,

Then I will praise my saviour, the divine

Companion who drank the bitter cup

 

And in so doing made it flow with wine,

That his strong love might overrun my heart

And all his joy in heaven might be mine.

 

Then I will sing his song, and take my part

In Love’s true music, as his kingdom comes

And heaven’s hidden gates are drawn apart.

 

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The 12th Poem in my Corona on the Psalms: A Plea for Liberation

whose icons all prove idols in the end

We come now to the 12th poem in my interwoven series of responses the the Book of Psalms. We have been praying these ancient texts together as a church for two thousand years, but each generation in their turn must make these prayers their own and bring them to bear on the way we live now, and this is what I am seeking to do in these poems. When I came to read the opening verses of this psalm:

  1. HELP me, Lord, for there is not one godly man left: for the faithful are minished from among the children of men,
  2. They talk of vanity every one with his neighbour: they do but flatter with their lips, and dissemble in their double heart.

And also the 4th verse in which the oppressors say: ‘with our tongue we will prevail’, I began to think about all the technology of communication, and the lives we live online. Like many people I have been alarmed not only by the anger and absence of charity in so much internet discourse but also about the insidious ways in which some social media platforms have turned their users into saleable ‘product’, harvesting and marketing our personal data. Now we have brought this on ourselves and I am very conscious of the irony of even discussing it on the very media I am criticising, though I have to say the appearance of my poetry on social media is only a stopgap, its true habitat os the good old fashioned book, or the in-person recitation, and of course I hope the readers of this page will eventually prefer to have a real book in their hands when these poems are eventually published.

Happily Psalm 12 doesn’t leave us in despair about the human abuse and cheapening of language, but brings us back to the redemptive words of God himself:

The words of the Lord are pure words: even as the silver, which from the earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire.

And so in the end my poem too returns us to hope in the words of Christ himself. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right. I hope you enjoy the poem.

XII Salvum me fac

To topple tyrants and exalt the low,

Up lord and help us! Hear our hapless sighs,

We have been cowed by ‘people in the know’,

 

The worldly wind us in a web of lies,

We have been flattered into servitude,

Snared with devices that the rich devise.

 

They purchase us with their fake plenitude,

They keep us clicking on false images.

The one percent control the multitude

 

With virtual distractions, online purchases,

Whose icons all prove idols in the end.

They market us as passive packages.

 

Send us instead your pure words, Jesus, send

Us hope, still silver-bright, tried in the fire,

Come down to free us, come as our true friend.

 

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The 11th Poem In My Corona On The Psalms: In Domino Confido

‘I envy birds their wings’ image by Peter Swain

Continuing my series of poems in response to The Psalms we come to Psalm 11 I mentioned in my last post that this is part of a  sequence of four psalms from 9 through to 12, which strongly emphasise God’s promise to defend the poor and needy. Psalm 11 highlights our sense of unfairness when some of the best people, ‘the true of heart’ are specifically targeted by the worst people, and how even if we had wings to fly, someone would want to shoot us down

IN THE Lord put I my trust: how say ye then to my soul, that she should flee as a bird unto the hill? For lo, the ungodly bend their bow, and make ready their arrows within the quiver: that they may privily shoot at them which are true of heart.

But the Psalmist opens and closes the psalm with confidence in God and the final establishment of his justice. It is both challenging and comforting for us to read this: challenging because we may be complicit in the oppression f the poor it describes, but comforting because in trusting God alone we may be liberated to change the way we live. In my poem I confess the constraint and complicity but also try to deepen the trust and the comfort. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the play button. If you put the word ‘psalms’ in the search bar you will find the other poems in this series.

XI In Domino confido

 

Arise my God, and give the poor their day!

For now I see the powers taking aim

And targeting the weakest. See, they slay

 

The true of heart and still they claim

To be our shepherds!  Where then can I fly?

I envy birds their wings, but sorrows maim,

 

And my complicities constrain me. I

Long with all my soul to seek the hill

Where God has set his citadel on high,

 

Yet through these sad constraints I trust him stlll,

I know that he can see the way things go

I know that these dark ways are not his will

 

For he loves justice, and the poor will know

That he is their defender when he comes

To topple tyrants and exalt the low.

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The tenth poem in my Corona on the Psalms: A Rebel Song

Continuing my series of poems in response to The Psalms we come to Psalm 10. I mentioned in my last post that this is part of a  sequence of four psalms from 9 through to 12, which strongly emphasise God’s promise to defend the poor and needy. Psalm 10 certainly continues that theme but is distinguished by its vivid portrait of the ‘ungodly’ who persecute or exploit the poor:

The ungodly for his own lust doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the crafty wiliness that they have imagined. For the ungodly hath made boast of his own heart’s desire: and speaketh good of the covetous, whom God abhorreth. The ungodly is so proud, that he careth not for God ; neither is God in all his thoughts. His ways are alway grievous: thy judgements are far above out of his sight, and therefore defieth he all his enemies. For he hath said in his heart, Tush, I shall never be cast down: there shall no harm happen unto me. His mouth is full of cursing, deceit, and fraud: under his tongue is ungodliness and vanity.

And this description of a character all too familiar in modern as well as ancient times, is followed by the great cry of the psalmist in verse 13

Arise, O Lord God, and lift up thine hand: forget not the poor.

This cry must surely rise to God from the lips of the poor today, and it certainly found its way into my poetic response to the psalm. As usual you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. you can find the other poems in this series by entering ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.

 

X Ut quid, Domine?

We sing with all the daughters of true Sion

But now our song must be a rebel song:

A song against the proud devouring lion,

 

A song that cries aloud, O Lord how long?

How long will you stand back and let them be

These vicious tricksters, thinking they’re so strong,

 

Who make a boast of their own vanity;

Self-serving ‘leaders’ feeding their desire

For self-aggrandisement, whose idiocy

 

Sickens the nations that they should inspire.

They care for nothing but themselves and say

That God will never see it. They retire

 

Onto their yachts and golf-courses, where they

Mock the very people they oppress. Arise

Arise my God, and give the poor their day!

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The Eighth Poem In My Corona On The Psalms

‘The lights of heaven, each a glory in their station’

It seems fitting to post the 8th poem in my corona on The Psalms in this time of Ascensiontude because Psalm 8 is often set as an ‘ascension psalm’. This is because its opening verse: O LORD our Governor, how excellent is thy Name in all the world: thou that hast set thy glory above the heavens! seems so completely fitting for the ascension of the risen christ to the right hand of the father’, and again because the famous 5th verse in which the psalmist reflects on our position as human beings in the scale of creation ‘ a little lower than the angels‘ but nevertheless given responsibility, also seemed to speak of Christ’s descent to us and then in ascension his being crowned with Glory:

For me though, as I came two write this sequence, the most striking thing about this psalm, apart from the sheer beauty of its evocation of the moon and the stars, was the range and scale of its reference: we go in just a few words from the ‘glory above the heavens‘ in verse 1, to Wisdom coming out of the mouths of babes and sucklings in verse 2.

So here is my response to psalm 8, as always you can hear me read it by clicking on the ‘play’ button or title, and you can read the original psalm Here

You can find the other poems in this series by typing ‘psalms’ into the search box

 

VIII Domine, Dominus noster

 Before the splendour of the resurrection

Dawns and transforms the world, I’ll watch the lights

Of heaven, each a glory, in their station,

 

Harbingers of greater heaven, keeping nights

Of watch with us, the moving moon and stars,

His handiwork in which he still delights.

 

And I will listen too: open my ears

To every creature that still speaks his name

From babes and sucklings to those crowned with years,

 

For wisdom laughs and lives in both. The flame

Of love is kindled round the world in old

And young. I’ll seek him too beyond the tame

 

Familiar world, out in the wide and wild,

As much in the steep seas, and mountain heights

As in the startling wisdom of a child.

 

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The Seventh Poem In My Corona On The Psalms

Before the Great Lion in his righteousness

Continuing with my ‘corona’ on the psalms, a series of interwoven responses to the psalter, each poem beginning with the last line of the previous poem and offering its last line to the next, we come to psalm VII, a psalm of complete trust in God but also a psalm about his judgement. This psalm contains the crucial insight that in the end evil is self destructive, that it contains the seeds of its own demise:

He hath graven and digged up a pit: and is fallen on himself into the destruction that he made for other.

For his travail shall come upon his own head: and his wickedness shall fall on his own pate.

This is an insight that Milton expressed very powerfully in Comus, where one of the brothers in that masque says ‘Evil will back recoil upon itself and mix no more with good’ the phrase ‘back recoil upon itself’ was probably an allusion to the way cannons recoil back when they are fired – Milton regarded such weapons as essentially a devilish invention, indeed in Paradise Lost there is a scene in Hell where the devils invent fire arms. The psalm also talks about the evil person as ‘a devouring lion’ another image I pick up in my poem, though I balance it with an allusion to the true Lion, Christ mystically shown in revelation as ‘The Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah”, and of course, for modern readers, to Aslan the Great Lion who is Christ in Narnia. You may like to reread the psalm in Coverdales translation, which is my source text before or after you read my poetic reflection on it. If you are new to this series here are links to the other poems:

V  III and IV  II 

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

VII Domine, Deus meus

Until I recognise his face at last

I’ll trust him in the dark and carry on,

Till these destructive powers fall back to dust

 

Till the devouring lions are fled and gone

Before the Great Lion in his righteousness.

Then every place where some small gleam has shown

 

Will shine within the light of holiness,

And he will prove and make me true of heart,

My lord and God, Dominus deus meus.

 

Evil can only break itself apart

Recoiling back into its own destruction

And digging its own grave. It has no part

 

In the true kingdom. All its desolation

Will fall away to nothing and be gone,

Before the splendour of the resurrection.

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