Tag Archives: Bible

A Sonnet for 27th December: the Feast of St. John

The soaring glory of an eagle's flight

The soaring glory of an eagle’s flight

Two days after Christmas, on the 27th of December, the church keeps the feast of St. John the Evangelist. It is fitting that the Gospel writer whose prologue delves so deeply into the mystery of Incarnation, and whose words ‘The Word was made flesh’ are read at every Christmas Eucharist, should have his feast-day within the twelve days of Christmas.

In my sonnet sequence Sounding the Seasons I have gathered my sonnets for the four Evangelists into one sequence at the beginning. But here, in its proper place in the liturgical year, is my sonnet for St. John, the evangelist whose emblem is the Eagle. (for an account of the four emblems see here. I love John’s Gospel and you can hear the five talks I gave on Logos, Light, Life, Love and Glory in John’s Gospel via links on this page.)

Sounding the Seasons and my new book The Singing Bowl are both available from Amazon or on order from your local bookstore

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

John

This is the gospel of the primal light,

The first beginning, and the fruitful end,

The soaring glory of an eagle’s flight,

The quiet touch of a beloved friend.

This is the gospel of our transformation,

Water to wine and grain to living bread,

Blindness to sight and sorrow to elation,

And Lazarus himself back from the dead!

This is the gospel of all inner meaning,

The heart of heaven opened to the earth,

A gentle friend on Jesus’ bosom leaning,

And Nicodemus offered a new birth.

No need to search the heavens high above,

Come close with John, and feel the pulse of Love.

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Christmas Eve by Christina Rossetti

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

In my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word,The poem I have chosen for Christmas Eve, is  Christmas Eve by Christina Rossetti. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above was created by Linda Richardson for her book of responses to waiting on the word. Linda writes:

Some years ago I had the wonderful privilege of seeing ‘Dance’ by Henri Matisse. It was the one kept at The Hermitage, St Petersburg, and it was brought to London for an exhibition. It is nearly four meters wide and unlike like one in New York, the figures are not pink but a glowing orange, like reflected fire light. I was utterly overwhelmed when I saw it, and I was moved to tears.

The words, ‘For Christmas bringeth Jesus”, echo through today’s poem and are for me, the centre of all this season’s activity and the reason for our joy and celebration. In the image I painted there is no speech except that of the wildly dancing figures. They are intent on celebrating the Word made flesh, through their own flesh, and all around them the trees join in the dance. Above them the birds wheel about with the clouds and stars and the whole of creation redounds in joy and praise.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55

 

You can find 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

I should add that unfortunately the little word ‘a’ was committed from the first line in the printing of the anthology, which slightly spoils the rhythm. You can hear me read the proper text on this recording and I also post that corrected text below:

Christmas Eve

 

CHRISTMAS hath a darkness

Brighter than the blazing noon,

Christmas hath a chillness

Warmer than the heat of June,

Christmas hath a beauty

Lovelier than the world can show:

For Christmas bringeth Jesus,

Brought for us so low.

 

Earth, strike up your music,

Birds that sing and bells that ring;

Heaven hath answering music

For all Angels soon to sing:

Earth, put on your whitest

Bridal robe of spotless snow:

For Christmas bringeth Jesus,

Brought for us so low.

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O Oriens A Fifth Advent reflection with music

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

The fifth ‘great ‘O’ antiphon in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word calls on Christ as the ‘Oriens’, the Morning Star, the Dayspring, and it comes as an answer to the sense of darkness and captivity in the fourth antiphon, O Clavis‘ I find the idea of Christ as rising light in the East very moving, for he is Alpha, the ‘Beginning’. The Translation which gives ‘Dayspring’ for Oriens I especially love, both because ‘Dayspring’ suggests at one and the same time, both light and water, two primal goods in life which I love in combination, especially light reflected on water, and also because ‘Dayspring’ was the name of a ship my great grandfather built for Scottish missionaries and also the name of the little gaff cutter, from whose deck I saw the dawn rise after a long period of darkness. Many of these senses of ‘Dayspring’ are at play in the sonnet I have given below. I should also mention that the line from Dante means “I saw light in the form of a river’ another touchstone moment for me in the Paradiso You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. The image above was created by Linda Richardson. She writes:

How often do you hear the word ‘Dayspring’ used in common parlance? It is such a beautiful word meaning ‘dawn’. Here it is in Luke 1:76-79: ‘And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways… whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ (King James Version)

I laboured over this small painting using acrylic paint, ink and watercolour to try to get that ephemeral light that only a very few astronauts have ever seen with their own eyes. The great blue Earth turns away from the darkness of the void and is lit by the Sun, the archetype of God, and Malcolm’s poem is so full of expectant joy and peace – ‘the darkness was a dream’. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says, ‘ We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience’.

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

I am also glad that Jac Redford has given me permission to share his beautiful setting of this poem:

O Oriens: 

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes
in tenebris, et umbra mortis

O Dayspring,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Oriens

E vidi lume in forme de riviera Paradiso XXX; 61

First light and then first lines along the east
To touch and brush a sheen of light on water
As though behind the sky itself they traced

The shift and shimmer of another river
Flowing unbidden from its hidden source;
The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.

Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice
Are bathing in it now, away upstream…
So every trace of light begins a grace

In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam
Is somehow a beginning and a calling;
“Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream

For you will see the Dayspring at your waking,
Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking”.

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Advent Good Wishes by David Grieve

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 16th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Advent Good wishes by the contemporary priest poet David Grieve. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. The dramatic image above, which brings so much of both war and the hope of peace into play, was created by Linda Richardson in response to this poem. she writes:

In this painting there is a figure, maybe an angel or a tree spirit holding a candle, but the light from the candle has a radiance that is other worldly. It gently lights up the sleeping wolf and lambs that rest at the foot of the painting. At first the painting seems very peaceful but it is disturbingly fiery and high above the tree are two military helicopters hovering, it seems, like vultures. I wanted to paint both peace and war, as they are the reality of the times we live in, however the centre of the painting is very still, the figure has its eyes closed and is perhaps praying.

In turbulent times we may wonder how to keep despair at bay, but the radiant, gleaming colours of the painting tell us that God’s love surrounds us on every side and encompasses us. If we trust God, then the gleaming beauty with which God surrounds us can become our vision and fear is kept at bay.

 

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

Advent Good Wishes

Give you joy, wolf,

when Messiah makes you meek

and turns your roar into a cry that

justice has been done for the poor.

 

Give you joy, lamb,

when Messiah saves you from jeopardy

and all fear is overwhelmed

by his converting grace.

 

Give you joy, wolf and lamb together,

as Messiah brings worldwide peace and,

side by side, you shelter

under Jesse’s spreading shoot.

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Despised and Rejected Christina Rosetti

Despised and Rejected Image by Linda Richardson

Despised and Rejected Image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 11th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Despised and Rejected, a dramatic and challenging reflection on encounter with Christ by Christina Rosetti. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, takes up the poems opening proclamation, was created by Linda Richardson.

Linda Writes:

There are some dramas you watch with dread. The Director lets you in on a secret that is unknown to the protagonist and you watch the drama unfold, knowing that along the way, you and the protagonist will meet at this awful moment. It was with this feeling that I began work.

When Malcolm invited me to show the images I made last year in response to Waiting on the Word, I decided to do a new art work for this poem as the one I made didn’t turn out well. But now as I come to write about it I hope you will forgive me for including it. The poem’s title is Despised and Rejected, so as a small gesture of redemption, it seems appropriate to include this work that I would otherwise have rejected.

The image is indelibly cut in two by a separating path of black ink from the top left to the bottom right. Throughout the image, Rossetti’s impassioned words weave about through the paths of ink and paint, but there, in the bronze paint at the top right of the image, like a smear of dried blood, is a cord. The cord is bundled and scrunched into the paint and travels in the opposite direction, to the bottom left of the image. The two paths meet at a cross. Art is like life, and the marks we make sometimes come from our deep subconscious, so as I return to this work I recognise the cord as something that leads out of a labyrinth. ‘Footsteps echoing like a sigh passed me by’, Rossetti says towards the end of the poem. And I am left with the question, ‘What opportunities of love do I miss when I am lost in the labyrinth of my mind’?

You can find  a short reflective essay on this poem, which draws out its many references to Scripture, in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Despised and Rejected

My sun has set, I dwell

In darkness as a dead man out of sight;

And none remains, not one, that I should tell

To him mine evil plight

This bitter night.

I will make fast my door

That hollow friends may trouble me no more.

 

‘Friend, open to Me.’—Who is this that calls?

Nay, I am deaf as are my walls:

Cease crying, for I will not hear

Thy cry of hope or fear.

Others were dear,

Others forsook me: what art thou indeed

That I should heed

Thy lamentable need?

Hungry should feed,

Or stranger lodge thee here?

 

‘Friend, My Feet bleed.

Open thy door to Me and comfort Me.’

I will not open, trouble me no more.

Go on thy way footsore,

I will not rise and open unto thee.

 

‘Then is it nothing to thee? Open, see

Who stands to plead with thee.

Open, lest I should pass thee by, and thou

One day entreat My Face

And howl for grace,

And I be deaf as thou art now.

Open to Me.’

 

Then I cried out upon him: Cease,

Leave me in peace:

Fear not that I should crave

Aught thou mayst have.

Leave me in peace, yea trouble me no more,

Lest I arise and chase thee from my door.

What, shall I not be let

Alone, that thou dost vex me yet?

 

But all night long that voice spake urgently:

‘Open to Me.’

Still harping in mine ears:

‘Rise, let Me in.’

Pleading with tears:

Open to Me that I may come to thee.’

While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:

‘My Feet bleed, see My Face,

See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,

My Heart doth bleed for thee,

Open to Me.’

 

So till the break of day:

Then died away

That voice, in silence as of sorrow;

Then footsteps echoing like a sigh

Passed me by,

Lingering footsteps slow to pass.

On the morrow

I saw upon the grass

Each footprint marked in blood, and on my door

The mark of blood for evermore.

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Waiting on the Word: Advent Poetry

Waiting on the Word

Waiting on the Word

As we approach the first Sunday of Advent, I thought I would repost this link to my Advent anthology Waiting on the Word. This Anthology offers the reader a poem a day throughout Advent and on through Christmas and Epiphany. I also offer a little reflective essay to go with each poem, which I hope will help the reader to get into the depths of the poem more easily and will draw out some of the Advent Themes and the way the poems link to each other. The book works entirely as a stand-alone thing and could be used privately or in groups, but I have also be recorded each poem and will post a recording of my reading of that day’s poem for each day of Advent on this blog, so that readers of the book who wish to, can also hear the poem being read. Readers of this blog can of course also enjoy hearing the poems, and might like to get hold of the book (which is also on Kindle) so that they can follow along the text and read the interpretive essay.

I will also repost the daily recordings each accompanied by an original painting from the talented Linda Richardson, who created a book of images to reflect on each poem whilst she was using the book devotionally, and has kindly agreed to share those pictures with us. Do join us on the journey via the pages of the book and the pages of this blog.

Malcolm

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A Sonnet for St. Luke’s Day

St. Luke accompanied by his ‘creature’ the winged ox

This Wednesday, the 18th of October, is the feast day of St. Luke the Physician and Evangelist and so I am reposting this sonnet in his honour. This poem comes from Sounding the Seasons, my series of sonnets for the church year.  My sonnets, in that series, present the four Evangelists together and the imagery in those sonnets is influenced  by the images of the four living creatures round the throne of God and the tradition that each of these creatures represents both an aspect of Christ and one of the four Evangelists.

‘...since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the “pillar and ground” of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sitteth upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. ‘  St. Irenaeus of Lyons  (ca. 120-202 AD)  –  Adversus Haereses 3.11.8

For a good account of this tradition click here. I am drawing my inspiration both from the opening page image of each Gospel in the Lindesfarne Gospels and also from the beautiful account of the four living creatures given by St. Ireneus, part of which I quote above.  As well as being himself a Physician, and therefore the patron saint of doctors and all involved in healing ministry, Luke is also the patron of artists and painters. His gospel seems to have a particular connection with those on the margins of his society. In Luke we hear the voices of women more clearly than in any other gospel, and the claims and hope of the poor in Christ find a resonant voice.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking the ‘play’ button if it appears or clicking on the title of the poem. The photographer Margot Krebs Neale has again provided a thought-provoking photograph to interpret the poem, in this case one taken by her son Oliver.  The book with these sonnets was published by Canterbury Press  and is available from all the usual Amazons etc.

 Luke

His gospel is itself a living creature

A ground and glory round the throne of God,

Where earth and heaven breathe through human nature

And One upon the throne sees it is good.

Luke is the living pillar of our healing,

A lowly ox, the servant of the four,

We turn his page to find his face revealing

The wonder, and the welcome of the poor.

He breathes good news to all who bear a burden

Good news to all who turn and try again,

The meek rejoice and prodigals find pardon,

A lost thief reaches paradise through pain,

The voiceless find their voice in every word

And, with Our Lady, magnify Our Lord.

Thanks to Margot Krebs Neale for this image

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