Tag Archives: Cambridge

Jeremy Taylor and the Insights of Inclusion

August 13th is the day set aside by the Church of England to remember with gratitude the life and writings of Jeremy Taylor. Taylor, one of the classic Seventeenth Century Anglican Divines, has been called The Shakespeare of the Pulpit for the beautiful poetic prose of his sermons. He was also a great Spiritual Director and advisor, distilling gret wisdom into books like Holy Living and Holy Dying. Yesterday at St. Edward’s I preached a sermon celebrating those particular gifts and insights of his that i believe the church most needs today.

Here is the link to the sermon, which is preceded by a reading from a passage of Taylor’s work:

Jeremy Taylor and the Insights of Inclusion

And here are the two passages to which I refer in the sermon:

Taylor’s image of the upland Valley:

‘It is in some circumstances
and from some persons more secure to conceal visions and those
heavenly gifts, which create estimates among men, than to publish
them, which may possibly minister to vanity; and those exterior
graces may do God’s work, though no observer note them, but the
person for whose sake they are sent: like rain falling in uninhabited
valleys, where no eye observes the showers; yet the valleys laugh
and sing to God in their refreshment without a witness

Taylor compares St. Paul and St. Mary:

And it is not altogether inconsiderable to observe, that the holy

Virgin came to a great perfection and state of piety by a few, and

those modest and even external actions. St Paul travelled over

the world, preached to the Gentiles, disputed against the Jews,

confounded heretics, writ excellently learned letters, suffered

dangers, injuries, affronts and persecutions to the height of

wonder, and by these violences of life, action and patience

obtained the crown of an excellent religion and devotion. But

the holy Virgin, although she engaged sometimes in an active

life, and in the exercises of an ordinary and small economy

and government, or ministries of a family, yet she arrived to

her perfections by the means of a quiet and silent piety, the

internal actions of love, devotion, and contemplation; and

instructs us, that not only those who have opportunity and powers

of a magnificent religion, or a pompous charity, or miraculous

conversion of souls, or assiduous and effectual preachings, or

exterior demonstrations of corporal mercy, shall have the greatest

crown, and the addition of degrees and accidental rewards; but

the silent reflections, the splendours of an internal devotion, the

Unions of love humility and obedience, the daily offices of prayer

and praises sung to God, the acts of faith and fear, of patience and

meekness, of hope and reverence, repentance and charity,

And those graces which walk in a veil and silence, make

great ascents to God, and as sure progress to favours and a

crown, as the more ostentatious and laborious exercises of a

more solemn religion….a devout

woman in her closet, praying with much zeal and affection for

(the conversion of souls, is in the same order to a ‘shining like

stars in glory’ as he who by excellent discourses puts it into a

more forward disposition to be actually performed. And possibly

her prayers obtained energy and force to my sermon, and made

The ground fruitful and the seed spring up to life eternal

Both these passages come from The Great Exemplar, Taylor’s beautiful meditative Life of Christ.

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A Quartet of Sonnets for St. Edwards

I have been working on, and have now completed, a quartet of sonnets for and about my beloved church of St. Edwards in Cambridge, though I hope they will have wider resonance beyound the place where they are rooted.

I am taking a leaf out of George Herbert’s book A Priest to the Temple, his poems like The Church Floor and The Windowes begin with the outward visibly part of the physical church fabric and move through it to show the spiritual ‘inside’, the ‘heaven in ordinarie’. My  sequence of four takes you on a journey eastwards towards the heart of our mystery from the font by the West door of the church, a place of beginnings, to the lectern and the pulpit,, the places where  we hear the bible and hear it opened for us, as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus, to the altar,(my poem is about our sixteenth century communion table) where for us, as for those disciples on the road, Jesus is known  in the breaking of the bread.

I believe in the incarnation,and therefore I believe that the spiritual is  known in and through the physical. I love and celebrate in these poems the particular physicality of ancient stone and wood in these time-worn objects, font, lectern, pulpit,table. I hope however that there is enough of the universal in what I write for something of what is in these sonnets to be helpful to anyone coming to any font, lectern or communion table anywhere. If you find these verses helpful please feel free to copy them and make what use of them as you like in your own church and church life.

This little sequence is in turn part of a much bigger project, to do a book of poems and pictures in collaboration with the wonderful artist Rebecca Merry, which will take the reader on a journey through the liturgical year and the sacraments, telling afresh the great sequence of Incarnation Death and Resurrection.

A preliminary note on Latimer’s Pulpit

Of the four the only one which is perhaps peculiar to St. Edwards is the pulpit. Ours is known as Latimers Pulpit,  for Hugh Latimer the great Saint and Martyr preached there often, and it was in this pulpit that he preached the famous sermon of the card, to which my sonnet alludes.

In that sermon he imagines that we are losing a card game with the devil. One after another he lays out the black suit of our sins, he holds all the cards and is ready to take the ‘trick’ of our souls, but Christ leans forward and lays on top of all those sins the trump card that wins us back; the king of hearts, for in a universe where God is love, then love is always trumps. At the end of the sermon he exhorts his hearers to do for others what Christ has done for them. When people deal you cards of malice, hate, or envy always and only reply by trumping hate with love. His great love, even of his enemies, shone through when he was burned at the stake for his faith in 1555. It is an extraordinary experience to touch the wood, and to stand in that pulpit and preach as I do each week. But setting the pulpit sonnet aside, I hope that readers both in and beyond St. Edwards may find something helpful for their own journies from the font, past the lectern to the altar, and through life.

Four Sonnets for St. Edwards:

The Font

Old stone angels hold aloft the font
A wide womb, floating on the breath of God,
Feathered with seraph wings, lit with the swift
Bright lightening of praise, with thunder over-spread,
And under-girded with their unheard song,
Calling through water, fire, darkness, pain,
Calling us to the life for which we long,
Yearning to bring us to our birth again.

Again the breath of God is on the waters
In whose reflecting face our candles shine,
Again he draws from death the sons and daughters
For whom he bid the elements combine,
As old stone angels round a font today
Become the ones who roll the stone away.

The Lectern

Some rise on eagles wings, this one is plain,
Plain English workmanship in solid oak:
Age gracefully it says, go with the grain.
You walk towards an always open book,
Open as every life to every light,
Open to shade and shadow, day and night,
The changeless witness of your changing pain.
Be still the lectern says, stand here and read
Here are your mysteries, your love and fear,
And, running through them all, the slender thread
Of God’s strange grace, red as these ribbons, red
As your own blood when reading reads you here
And pierces joint and marrow…
So you stand
The lectern still beneath your trembling hand.

Latimer’s pulpit

Latimer’s pulpit, you can touch the wood,
Sound for yourself the syllables of grace
That sounded and resounded through this place;
A quickened word, a kindling for good
In evil times; when malice held the cards
And played them, in the play of politics,
When knaves with knives were taking all the tricks,
When Christendom was shivered into shards,
When King and Queen were pitched in different camps,
When burning books could stoke the fire for men,
When such were stacked against him –even then
Latimer knew that hearts alone are trumps.
He gave the King of Hearts his proper name,
He touched this wood, and kindled love to flame.

This Table

The centuries have settled on this table
Deepened the grain beneath a clean white cloth
Which bears afresh our changing elements.
Year after year of prayer, in hope and trouble,
Were poured out here and blessed and broken, both
In aching absence and in absent presence.

This table too the earth herself has given
And human hands have made. Where candle-flame
At corners burns and turns the air to light
The oak once held its branches up to heaven,
Blessing the elements which it became,
Rooting the dew and rain, branching the light.

Because another tree can bear, unbearable,
For us, the weight of Love, so can this table

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