Tag Archives: christianity

Columba and my calling.

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale

June the 9th is Saint Columba’s day, a saint who has a special place for me, as somehow, he feels bound up in my own journey to Faith. When I was 19, and moving from  atheism, towards a greater spiritual openness, but by no means yet a Christian, I went for a long slow walk round Ireland. I went without a map because the Zen practice in which I was interested at the time, and on which I still draw in prayer, was always emphasizing ‘The map is not the reality”! You must utterly and absolutely be in the place you’re in, and let that place be what it is and teach what it has to teach without any overlay from your maps and preconceptions. So I took that literally and walked round Ireland without  a map, just keeping the sea on my left! One evening, St. John’s Eve it was, right at the end of my journey, I came round a headland at sunset into a beautiful little bay and inlet on the west coast in Donegal, just as the fires were being lit around the headlands for St. John’s Eve, and there was drinking and fiddle playing and dancing round the fires that evening. And I asked where I was, and they said Glencolmcille, and I felt a sudden quickening and sense of connection, as though a memory stirred. And they asked me my name and I said ‘Malcolm’, and they said, ‘Ah that is why you have come, because he has called you’, and I said ‘who?’ and they said ‘Colm has called you, Malcolm, for this is the place he fought his battle and gathered his disciples and from here he left for the white martyrdom and Scotland. And they told me the story of St. Columba, and the battle he had fought, of his repentance, his self-imposed exile, his journey with twelve disciples from this glen to Scotland where he founded the abbey of Iona from whence Scotland and much of the north of England was converted. ‘Of course he is calling you here’, they said, ‘for your name, in Gaelic means’ servant of Colm’, which is Columba. And as they spoke I remembered at last, right back into my childhood, how I had been told stories about this saint, and how I was named for him, and how my grandmother had published poems about him and sung her lullaby for the infant Columba over me as a child. I wandered down to the shore whence he had set sail and felt how thin the veil was, how something of heaven, whatever heaven might be, seemed to glimmer through the sky and the sea itself in this place. And I thought: ‘I’m not a Christian, and I don’t see how I could ever become one, but if I do ever become one, I’ll remember Columba and I’ll go to Iona and thank him’. Which I did, and I did. Now here’s my sonnet for the saint. This poem is now collected in my book The Singing Bowl from Canterbury Press which you can get on amazon, or better still, order from your local bookshop! If you are in Canada you can get it direct from the excellent Steve Bell’s online store Here

Columba

 You called me and I came to Colmcille

To learn at last the meaning of my name

Though you yourself were called, and not the caller,

He called through you and when He called I came.

Came to the edge at last, in Donegal,

Where bonfires burned and music lit the flame

As from the shore I glimpsed that ragged sail

The Spirit filled to drive you from your  home,

A fierce dove racing in a fiercer gale,

A swift wing flashing between sea and sky.

And with that glimpse I knew that I  would fly

And find you out and serve you for a season,

My heaven hidden like your native isle,

Though somehow glimmering on each horizon.

Glencolmcille, scene of a small epiphany

Glencolmcille, scene of a small epiphany

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5 Dialogues: 5 Your Neighbour As Yourself

Parable and Paradox hi resHere is the fifth of my five dialogues on the two great commandments. I described the whole sequence in this post. The poems are taken from my new book Parable and Paradox, available from Amazon or on order from any bookshop. do come to the launch at Girton college on 14th June at 5:15 if you are free. This sequence will also feature on my new record Songs and Sonnets. Click here to learn more and support that project if you wish. This final poem in the series reflects on what it might mean to love my neighbour as myself. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button.

Luke 10:27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 

V Your Neighbour As Yourself

 

My neighbour as myself? I cannot learn

To love myself at all. I look away,

The dark glass only shames me and I burn

At what should never see the light of day.

 

I’ll be the judge of that, for in my light

Judgment and healing meet you equally.

The self you loathe is precious in my sight

And I will have you love it into me.

You and your neighbor, both must made whole.

Her heart’s as dark and needy as your own,

So you must love her in her hidden soul, 

The very soul she’s trying to disown.

Love her as you are loved and you will find

Love is your heart, your soul, your strength, your mind.

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5 Dialogues: 4 With All Your Mind

My Motto!

My Motto!

Here is the fourth of my five dialogues on the two great commandments. I described the whole sequence in this post. The poems are taken from my new book Parable and Paradox, available from Amazon or on order from any bookshop. do come to the launch at Girton college on 14th June at 5:15 if you are free. This sequence will also feature on my new record Songs and Sonnets. Click here to learn more and support the project if you wish. This fourth poem in the series reflects on what it might mean to love with all my mind. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button.

Luke 10:27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 

IV With All Your Mind

 

With all my mind? With all my open questions?

My restless questing after hidden truth?

With all my science, all my suppositions?

My search for certainty, my lust for proof?

With all my mind? its logic and obsession,

Its wordless reveries, its language games,

Its reason and its deep imagination

Its mysteries, its riddles and its dreams?

 

With all your mind, with every gift I gave you,

For every drop of truth is drawn from me.

Not that your mind itself will ever save you,

But that it lives within my mystery.

Ask and be answered, seek and you will find

I am the life of every loving mind.

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5 Dialogues: 3 With All Your Strength

Do Come if you can!

Do Come if you can!

Here is the third of my five dialogues on the two great commandments. I described the whole sequence in this post. The poems are taken from my new book Parable and Paradox, available from Amazon or on order from any bookshop. do come to the launch at Girton college on 14th June at 5:15 if you are free. This sequence will also feature on my new record Songs and Sonnets. Click here to learn more and support the project if you wish. This second poem in the series reflects on what it might mean to love with all my strength. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button.

Luke 10:27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

III With All Your Strength

 

With all my strength? What little strength I have

Is shadowed by the instruments of death.

I crawl from dawn to dusk towards my grave

As frail and fleeting as my every breath,

And all the strength of broken humankind

Seems only spent on pain and cruelty,

To magnify the malice of the mind

And crush the poor in deeper poverty.

 

And that is why you need to love with strength, 

And offer all that little strength to me,

That you might let me mend it, till at length

We bear the weight together, set you free,

As one who knows how all is borne above,

And meets all malice in the strength of Love.

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5 Dialogues: 2 With All Your Soul

Parable and Paradox hi resHere is the second of the five dialogues on the two great commandments I described in my last post. The poems are taken from my new book Parable and Paradox, available from Amazon or on order from any bookshop. do come to the launch at Girton college on 14th June at 5:15 if you are free. This sequence will also feature on my new record Songs and Sonnets. Click here to learn more and support the project if you wish. This second poem in the series reflects on what it might mean to love with all my soul. As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button.

II With All Your Soul

 

With all my soul? I scarcely know my soul.

The age I live in doesn’t think it’s there,

They cut me up, where you would make me whole,

And think your promise only empty air.

They say I’m hormones, chemical extremes,

Enzymes unwinding blindly, selfish genes,

Just empty gestures and repeated memes.

With all my soul? I don’t know what that means.

 

Before the first life stirred my spirit called you,

I knew you when I wove you in the dark,

I made you more than all the forms that mould you,

And kindled in your depth my hidden spark

So let them say your soul is empty air,

Love with your soul and you will know its there.

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Five Dialogues: 1 With All Your Heart

Parable and Paradox hi resAs part of the run up to the launch on June 14th of my new book of poetry Parable and Paradox, I am going to post here some of the poems you can find in the book. I am starting with a series of five dialogues  I have written about the two great commandments, in which I try to explore what it means to love with all the heart, all the soul, all the strength, all the mind. these sonnets take the form of a conversation between the speaker and Christ. I say ‘the speaker’ because although I use the first person in the opening of each of these poems and I certainly speak with my own heart and soul, I hope that the reader too will be able to identify with the opening voice in each sonnet and so also be able to hear Christ replying to them in the second part of each poem.

Songs and Sonnets as we hope it will eventually appear!

Songs and Sonnets as we hope it will eventually appear!

These five poems will also appear, in a finer recording and with beautiful music, on the new record I am making with Steve Bell and Roy Salmond called Songs and Sonnets. They have started a crowdfunding page to make the recording and procductuion of the CD possible and I would be grateful if you could support it in however small a way. You can find out more and watch a short video by clicking Here. As always you can hear the poem in this post by clicking on the title or the play button. But it will be better still on the record!

So here is the first of the five, reflecting on what it might mean to love with all my heart:

 

 

Luke 10:27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I: With All Your Heart

 

With all my heart? You know my heart too well,

It’s Yeats’s rag and bone shop. Will it do

To start my loving in that little hell,

Closed on itself and still excluding you?

Could I not offer you some empty room,

Some small apartment full of light and air,

Some portion of my life, above the gloom,

But not this pit of pride, not this despair.

 

Only your heart will do. Let me begin,

To break the ground and plant a seed that grows

Up through the closing darkness of your sin

Till your unsightly roots brings forth my rose.

For I have learned to make the broken true

Since my heart too was broken once for you.’

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Hidden Joys; A Sonnet for the Visitation

The feast of the Visitation, on the 31st of May, 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, 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 and physical copies are shortly to be available in Canada via Steve Bell. 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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