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.
In my Advent Anthology from Canterbury PressWaiting 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:
The fifth ‘great ‘O’ antiphon in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury PressWaiting 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 thedayspringfrom 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. So the first of the ‘play’ buttons below gives you JAC’s choral setting and the second gives you the plainsong antiphon, and me reading the poem.
O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes
in tenebris, et umbra mortis
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
The poem I have chosen for December 16th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury PressWaiting 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
The poem I have chosen for December 11th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury PressWaiting 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.
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
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.
St. Luke accompanied by his ‘creature’ the winged ox
This Friday, 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, include a mini-sequence on 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. In this iconographic tradition Luke’s emblem is the ox, the lowly servant 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 of his brother Luc. The book with these sonnets was published by Canterbury Press and is available from all the usual Amazons etc.