Tag Archives: Christ

Word In the Wilderness: 3rd Temptation

Temptation

Temptation

Here is my reflection and poem on Christ’s third temptation from my new book The Word in the Wilderness:

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time’ (Luke 4.9−3).

If the first two temptations in the wilderness were in some sense ‘obvious’; the temptation to mere physical satisfaction of appetite, and the temptation to worldly success and power, then the third temptation is subtle and dark, all the darker for pretending to a kind of light, or enlightenment. The third temptation takes place on the ‘pinnacle of the Temple’ on the height of religious experience and achievement. What could be wrong with that? But the best things, turned bad, are the worst things of all. A ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ life can be riddled with pride and a sense of distinction, judging or looking down on others, despising God’s good creation! Such a twisted religion does more damage in the world then any amount simple indulgence or gratification by sensual people. One of G. K. Chesterton’s wonderful Father Brown stories, ‘The Hammer of God’, explores this theme with his usual combination of acuity and humour. In the story a curate who has constantly taken to ‘praying, not on the common church floor with his fellow men, but on the dizzying heights of its spires’ is tempted to deal justice to his sinful brother by flinging a hammer down on him from the heights. It is Father Brown who sees and understands the temptation and brings the curate down from the heights to a proper place of repentance. Here’s a fragment of their dialogue before they descend:

 

‘I think there is something rather dangerous about standing on these high places even to pray,’ said Father Brown. ‘Heights were made to be looked at, not to be looked from.’

‘Do you mean that one may fall over?’ asked Wilfred.

‘I mean that one’s soul may fall if one’s body doesn’t,’ said the other priest …

After a moment he resumed, looking tranquilly out over the plain with his pale grey eyes. ‘I knew a man,’ he said, ‘who began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire. And once in one of those dizzy places, where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that, though he was a good man, he committed a great crime.’

Wilfred’s face was turned away, but his bony hands turned blue and white as they tightened on the parapet of stone.

‘He thought it was given to him to judge the world and strike down the sinner. He would never have had such a thought if he had been kneeling with other men upon a floor.’

‘I mean that one’s soul may fall if one’s body doesn’t,’ said the other priest.

 

I was remembering something of this story when I wrote my sonnet on the third temptation, but thanks be to God that in resisting this temptation to spiritual loftiness and display, Jesus shows his solidarity once and for all with all of us, trusting himself to our flesh and blood so that we can trust our flesh and blood to him. He does not look down on us but looks up with the humble eyes of the child of Bethlehem.

WhenThe image above is from a sketch book of the painter  Adam Boulter who sent me this haunting sketch of two figures looking down at Petra ‘from the high place of sacrifice’ (as he added in a marginal note) who sent me this sketch when we were working together on the In the Wilderness Exhibition for Westminster Abbey.

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that Copies of The Word in the Wilderness are readily available from Steve Bell Here

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and you can visit the exhibition with the finished paintings and poems at St. Margaret’s Westminster throughout Lent

Temptation in the wilderness

 

‘Temples and Spires are good for looking down from;

You stand above the world on holy heights,

Here on the pinnacle, above the maelstrom,

Among the few, the true, unearthly lights.

Here you can breathe the thin air of perfection

And feel your kinship with the lonely star,

Above the shadow and the pale reflection,

Here you can know for certain who you are.

The world is stalled below, but you could move it

If they could know you as you are up here,

Of course they’ll doubt, but here’s your chance to prove it

Angels will bear you up, so have no fear….’

‘I was not sent to look down from above

It’s fear that sets these tests and proofs, not Love.’

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In the Wilderness 7: Christ amongst the refugees

this scant and tented city outside Syria.

this scant and tented city outside Syria.

When Adam Boulter sent me the final sketch for his Wilderness series, titled ‘Contemporary Christian Refugees,’ I began to see the whole series in a new context. These stories of life-changing wilderness journeys which began with the well-known and resonant Biblical Narratives are not over. The Lord is still with his people in an exodus through the desert, Jesus is still with the displaced people ‘on the long road of weariness and want’. We have all been horrified by the events unfolding in Syria and Iraq, and as Christians flee from Mosul and the other places where ‘ISIS’ has persecuted, and painted ‘Nazarene’ on their doors, we are tempted to ask ‘Where is Christ in all this’?

But we must answer,’Christ is where he said he would be! With his people on the road, with the poor and persecuted, even where two or three are gathered together.’

Adam visited the UNHCR refugee camp where he sketched this tent, and there was something about the tent itself that moved me. Not only that it linked with the tent of hospitality pitched by Abraham and Sarah in the first painting and poem of this sequence, but because it set me in mind of how the powerful Greek word that’s used for ‘dwelt’  in John 1:14 14 ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,’ is εσκηνωσεν (eskenosen) which comes from ‘skenoo’, which means ‘to have one’s tent’, or ‘to pitch one’s tent’. As I saw the tented city of these Christian refugees I thought in a new way of how Christ pitches his tent in our humanity, and I try to suggest a little of that in this final poem in the series, into which other details Adam had observed at the scene, like the dark smoke from a devastated city looming over the horizon are also woven.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and you can visit the exhibition with the finished paintings and poems at St. Margaret’s Westminster throughout Lent. If you are not able to come to the exhibition, Adam has created a page on which you can see images of all seven finished paintings alongside their corresponding sonnets HERE

Christ amongst the refugees

 

That fearful road of weariness and want,

Through unforgiving heat and hate, ends here;

We narrow sand-blown eyes to scan this scant

And tented city outside Syria.

He fled with us when everything was wrecked

As Nazarene was blazoned on our door,

Walked with the damaged and the derelict

To where these tents are ranked and massed, foursquare

Against the desert, with a different blazon;

We trace the letters: UNHCR,

As dark smoke looms behind a cruel horizon.

Christ stands with us and withstands, where we are,

His high commission, as a refugee;

To pitch his tent in our humanity.

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In the Wilderness 4: Temptation

Temptation

Temptation

When Adam Boulter sent me this haunting sketch of two figures looking down at Petra ‘from the high place of sacrifice’ (as he added in a marginal note) I realised that, with some small changes, it answered to my sonnet on the third temptation of Christ in the Wilderness. The whole sequence of seven ‘Wilderness’ moments hinges on the two glimpses of Christ in the Wilderness: the first, forced there as an innocent child refugee, sharing the trauma of all the coerced victims of conflict, and this second as a mature man choosing to face and feel, to suffer for us, and to overcome our temptations, and in this case, the most insidious of all temptations, and the root of the most destructive and ghastly of all our conflicts, the temptation to religious pride.

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and you can visit the exhibition with the finished paintings and poems at St. Margaret’s Westminster throughout Lent

Temptation in the wilderness

 

‘A sacred place is good for looking down from;

You stand above the world on holy heights,

Here on the pinnacle, above the maelstrom,

Among the few, the true, unearthly lights.

Here you can breathe the thin air of perfection

And feel your kinship with the lonely star,

Above the shadow and the pale reflection,

Here you can know for certain who you are.

The world is stalled below, but you could move it

If they could know you as you are up here,

Of course they’ll doubt, but here’s your chance to prove it

Angels will bear you up, so have no fear….’

‘I was not sent to look down from above

It’s fear that sets these tests and proofs, not Love.’

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The Words of Life: A New Sonnet

You have the words of eternal life

You have the words of eternal life

This is the season of new beginnings. Some people may have made the resolution, in one way or another, to ‘turn over a new leaf’, though when I used that phrase once in a conversation with my mother, she looked at me sharply and said: ‘Its not the leaves, its the roots that want turning!’

I am turning then to the roots of my faith in the living words of Jesus, deep generative words, words of Life, as the gospel calls them, because Life himself speaks them, and from them so much new life and growth can spring. But there is a problem. Many of these ‘words of life’, these sayings of Jesus are so over-familiar that we have ceased to hear them at all, ceased to register the shock, and challenge, that many of them contain. And when we do begin to grasp them we often find them difficult and don’t take the time we need to wrestle with them.

I have begun a new sonnet sequence called Parable and Paradox, reflecting on and wrestling with the sayings of Jesus to try and get past that familiarity and return again to these deep roots.

In this particular sonnet, which will come near the beginning of the sequence, I look at the moment in John’s Gospel, when disciples are leaving Jesus, because they find his sayings too hard and challenging, and he asks Peter directly if he too, is going to leave, and we read in John 6:68:

Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Peter may not understand all that Jesus has to say to him, but he knows that somewhere in there is the heart of life itself and he is going to stay with Jesus until he understands it. And that really is the starting lace not only for this sonnet but for the whole sequence.

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

The Words of Life

 

John 6:68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

 

You have the words of life, where should we go

Except to you, to try and take them in?

We want your words to quicken us, to know

And be transformed by knowledge deep within.

How is it then, these words seem dead in us?

We neither let them go nor let them live,

Their empty echoes always seem to haunt us,

As daily we refuse what they might give.

 

Oh Teacher we need more than just the hearing,

More than these readings we have set apart,

Somehow the two-edged sword we have been fearing

Must pierce at last the well-defended heart.

Unsheathe it now and help us take the pain,

Pierce to the point where we can start again.

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For God So Loved The World…

God So Loved the World

God So Loved the World

I have begun a new series of sonnets reflecting on the teachings of Jesus which will, I hope, eventually become a new poetry book to be called Parable and Paradox. As we begin this new year I thought I would share some of these with you as ‘work in progress’. As we have just celebrated the supreme gift of God, his own self given to us in the loving gift of his Son, I thought I would start with this little sonnet reflecting on the mystery of those famous verses, John 3:16-17:

John 3:16-17

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

The Greek in John 3:16 is glorious, and as I allude to it in the poem, I cannot forbear to share it with you too:

16 ουτως γαρ ηγαπησεν ο θεος τον κοσμον ωστε τον υιον τον μονογενη εδωκεν ινα πας ο πιστευων εις αυτον μη αποληται αλλ εχη ζωην αιωνιον

The Word for ‘Loved’ in that verse is ‘egapesen’ that means ‘Agape’ Love, the highest and fullest and most selfless love, but best of all the word for ‘The World’ is ‘Ton Cosmon‘ -the whole cosmos!

We sometimes make his love, and the object of his love too small! We diminish and dwindle it down to some small time religious patter about the way we feel. In this sonnet I am trying to be open again to the literally Cosmic dimensions of John 3:16!

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

For God So loved the world

 

The whole round world, in Greek the total cosmos,

Is all encompassed in this loving word;

Not just the righteous, right on, and religious,

But every one of whom you’ve ever heard,

And all the throng you don’t know or ignore,

For everyone is precious in his sight,

Chosen and cherished, loved, redeemed before

The circling cosmos ever saw the light.

 

He set us in the world that we might flourish

That His beloved world might live through us

We chose instead that all of this should perish

And turned his every blessing to a curse.

And now he gives himself, as Life and Light

That we might choose in Him to set things right.

 in Greek the total cosmos

in Greek the total cosmos

 

 

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The Naming of Jesus, a new sonnet

The naming of Jesus

The naming of Jesus

January 1st brings us not only to the start of a new year but to a lovely little festival of the church: The Naming of Jesus. It is an amazing thing to think that the Eternal Word of God, the Logos from whom all languages and all meaning ultimately derives, should deign himself to be named and to learn a language along side us.

Steve Bell has written an excellent reflection on this festival in his new Christmastide Snippet App and he asked me to compose a sonnet to with it. So here it is. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

The Naming of Jesus

 

Luke 1:21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

 

I name you now, from whom all names derive

Who uttered forth the name of everything,

And in that naming made the world alive,

Sprung from the breath and essence of your being.

The very Word that gave us words to speak,

You drank in language with your mother’s milk

And learned through touch before you learned to talk,

You wove our week-day world, and still one week

Within that world, you took your saving name,

A given name, the gift of that good angel,

Whose Gospel breathes in good news for us all.

We call your name that we might hear a call

That carries from your cradle to our graves

Yeshua, Living Jesus, Yahweh Saves.

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Descent: A Christmas Poem

mangerMerry Christmas!

Milton wrote an Ode on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, which no one can hope to emulate, but in this poem I have followed his lead in drawing a contrast between the various gods of the Classical world and the full and astonishing revelation of God’s love in the manger at Bethlehem. This was originally a short three verse poem, but at the behest of Steve Bell I have re-written it so that it is now also a song, with a tune of his composing on his award-winning Album Keening for the Dawn. I have written about our collaboration here.

he poem is now published in my book The Singing Bowl. I have also recorded the song myself, on Steve Bell’s amazing new retrospective four cd set ‘Pilgrimage’As always you can hear me reading of this poem which you can hear by clicking on the ‘play’ button below or the title


Descent

They sought to soar into the skies

Those classic gods of high renown

For lofty pride aspires to rise

But you came down.

 

You dropped down from the mountains sheer

Forsook the eagle for the dove

The other Gods demanded fear

But you gave love

 

 

 

Where chiselled marble seemed to freeze

Their abstract and perfected form

Compassion brought you to your knees

Your blood was warm

 

They called for blood in sacrifice

Their victims on an altar bled

When no one else could pay the price

You died instead

 

 

They towered above our mortal plain,

Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,

Aloof from birth and death and pain,

But you were born.

 

Born to these burdens, borne by all

Born with us all ‘astride the grave’

Weak, to be with us when we fall,

And strong to save.

 

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