Tag Archives: confession

Dante and the Companioned Journey 2: Through the Gate

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

This week is the Dante Week for readers of my book  The Word in the Wilderness, my compilation of a poem a day for Lent.  In that book I give three poems from my sequence of nine written in response to the Commedia but I thought I might repost all nine on this blog for those who were interested in following up the sequence. You can read the first poem in my dante sequence (which is not in Word in the Wilderness, by clicking on this title: In Medias Res, If you would like to read through and listen to all nine poems in my Dante Sequence, which is published in the Singing Bowl, you can do so by starting HERE and then following links to subsequent posts

Today I am posting the second, ‘Through the Gate.’ Here is the commentary with which I introduced it in The Word in the wilderness and then the poem itself:

So Dante begins again, accompanied by Virgil and they come to the very gate of Hell, with its famous inscription ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here’! But they don’t abandon hope, and that is the whole point. It is hope that leads and draws them on, hope inspired by love. For Virgil has revealed to Dante that it is Beatrice, the woman with whom he had fallen so completely in love as a young man, now in the bliss of Heaven, who has herself ‘ventured down the dark descent’ (to borrow Milton’s phrase) to find Virgil and ask for his help in rescuing Dante, so that she and Dante can meet again and rise together through the spheres of Heaven. Like Jesus, who went to the cross, not for pain in itself, but ‘for the joys that were set before him’, so we are to make this journey through the memories of pain and darkness, not to stay with these things but to redeem them and move beyond them. And the journey is itself made possible because Christ himself has gone before. ‘He descended into Hell.’ Throughout the journey into the Inferno we are shown signs that Christ has been this way before and broken down the strongholds. Dante is here alluding to one of the great lost Christian stories, which we need to recover today; ‘The Harrowing of Hell’. We, who build so many Hells on earth, need to know that there is no place so dark, no situation so seemingly hopeless, that cannot be opened to the light of Christ for rescue and redemption.

This is the theme I have born in mind in the following poem, which is my own ‘reader response’ to Dante’s journey. Throughout I have been mindful that the Inferno is really ‘in here and right now’ not ‘out there and back then’, and emphatically not, if we trust in Christ, some inevitable end awaiting us. In that knowledge we must have the courage to expose our own personal Hell’s to Christ and let him harrow them with us, and that is precisely what Dante’s great poem allows us to do. The great statesman and Dante enthusiast, W. E. Gladstone said: ‘The reading of Dante is not merely a pleasure, a tour de force, or a lesson; it is a vigorous discipline for the heart, the intellect, the whole man’.

For all of us, somewhere within, there is a threshold or a gate beyond which we feel we dare not go, but it is sometimes just past that threshold that our real healing and restoration needs to take place. Sometimes the best way to get through that gate, and let Christ in, is in a companioned inner journey, with a trusted ‘soul friend’, a spiritual director, or a priest to whom we can make confession in complete confidence. I have deliberately echoed the phrase, from the form of confession ‘All I cannot call to mind’ as a way of suggesting that this journey with Dante down the dark spirals; one sin leading to another, one wound inflicting the next, can itself be an invitation to confession, and so to absolution and release.

This poem is  from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

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 Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

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

Through the Gate

Begin the song exactly where you are

For where you are contains where you have been

And holds the vision of your final sphere

 

And do not fear the memory of sin;

There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,

Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

 

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils

And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,

Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

 

The hopeless gate that holds in all the  fears

That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide

And open to the light that finds and fares

 

Through the dark pathways  where you run and  hide,

through all the alleys of your riddled heart,

As pierced and open as His wounded side.

 

Open the map to Him and make a start,

And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark

His light will go before you, let Him chart

 

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache

To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind

Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

 

And muted gloom in which you cannot find

The love that you once thought worth dying for.

Call Him to all you cannot call to mind

 

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your

Well guarded fortress let His love descend.

The icy ego at your frozen core

 

Can hear His call at last. Will you respond?

6 Comments

Filed under christianity, Poems

Dante and the companioned journey 2: Through the Gate

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

This week is the Dante Week for readers of my book  The Word in the Wilderness, my compilation of a poem a day for Lent.  In that book I give three poems from my sequence of nine written in response to the Commedia but I thought I might repost all nine on this blog for those who were interested in following up the sequence. Yesterday I gave the first of them In Medias Res, today I am posting the second, ‘Through the Gate.’ Here is the commentary with which I introduced it in The Word in the wilderness and then the poem itself:

So Dante begins again, accompanied by Virgil and they come to the very gate of Hell, with its famous inscription ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here’! But they don’t abandon hope, and that is the whole point. It is hope that leads and draws them on, hope inspired by love. For Virgil has revealed to Dante that it is Beatrice, the woman with whom he had fallen so completely in love as a young man, now in the bliss of Heaven, who has herself ‘ventured down the dark descent’ (to borrow Milton’s phrase) to find Virgil and ask for his help in rescuing Dante, so that she and Dante can meet again and rise together through the spheres of Heaven. Like Jesus, who went to the cross, not for pain in itself, but ‘for the joys that were set before him’, so we are to make this journey through the memories of pain and darkness, not to stay with these things but to redeem them and move beyond them. And the journey is itself made possible because Christ himself has gone before. ‘He descended into Hell.’ Throughout the journey into the Inferno we are shown signs that Christ has been this way before and broken down the strongholds. Dante is here alluding to one of the great lost Christian stories, which we need to recover today; ‘The Harrowing of Hell’. We, who build so many Hells on earth, need to know that there is no place so dark, no situation so seemingly hopeless, that cannot be opened to the light of Christ for rescue and redemption.

This is the theme I have born in mind in the following poem, which is my own ‘reader response’ to Dante’s journey. Throughout I have been mindful that the Inferno is really ‘in here and right now’ not ‘out there and back then’, and emphatically not, if we trust in Christ, some inevitable end awaiting us. In that knowledge we must have the courage to expose our own personal Hell’s to Christ and let him harrow them with us, and that is precisely what Dante’s great poem allows us to do. The great statesman and Dante enthusiast, W. E. Gladstone said: ‘The reading of Dante is not merely a pleasure, a tour de force, or a lesson; it is a vigorous discipline for the heart, the intellect, the whole man’.

For all of us, somewhere within, there is a threshold or a gate beyond which we feel we dare not go, but it is sometimes just past that threshold that our real healing and restoration needs to take place. Sometimes the best way to get through that gate, and let Christ in, is in a companioned inner journey, with a trusted ‘soul friend’, a spiritual director, or a priest to whom we can make confession in complete confidence. I have deliberately echoed the phrase, from the form of confession ‘All I cannot call to mind’ as a way of suggesting that this journey with Dante down the dark spirals; one sin leading to another, one wound inflicting the next, can itself be an invitation to confession, and so to absolution and release.

This poem is  from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

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 Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

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

Through the Gate

Begin the song exactly where you are

For where you are contains where you have been

And holds the vision of your final sphere

 

And do not fear the memory of sin;

There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,

Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

 

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils

And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,

Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

 

The hopeless gate that holds in all the  fears

That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide

And open to the light that finds and fares

 

Through the dark pathways  where you run and  hide,

through all the alleys of your riddled heart,

As pierced and open as His wounded side.

 

Open the map to Him and make a start,

And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark

His light will go before you, let Him chart

 

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache

To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind

Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

 

And muted gloom in which you cannot find

The love that you once thought worth dying for.

Call Him to all you cannot call to mind

 

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your

Well guarded fortress let His love descend.

The icy ego at your frozen core

 

Can hear His call at last. Will you respond?

4 Comments

Filed under christianity, Poems

Shriven and Ready: A Shrove Tuesday Post

O Shrieve me Shrieve me Holy Man!

O Shrieve me Shrieve me Holy Man!

The Word in the Wilderness, My new Anthology of Poetry for Lent, begins, not on Ash Wednesday, but on Shrove Tuesday with a reflection on what ‘shrove’ itself means. I thought I would share that with you on this Shrove Tuesday. If you’d like to pursue the journey further the book is available on Amazon both here and in the USA and is also available on Kindle. But if you’d like to buy it from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock. Shrove Tuesday: This is the day we think about being ‘shriven’ – confessing our sins and receiving the cleansing and release of forgiveness. The word ‘shrove’ drives from an Anglo-Saxon word ‘shrift’ meaning to hear someone’s confession, or ‘shrive them’. So Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, when he makes it to land, and needs to be released from the burden of his guilt, says to the hermit: ‘O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy Man.’ It was the duty of priests especially to hear the confession and grant forgiveness and spiritual counsel to those who were facing execution and when prison chaplains failed to do this properly, with time care and attention, there was a complaint that people were being ‘given short shrift’, which is where that phrase comes from. Here and now on this Shrove Tuesday we can take that time and care. But the whole idea of confession and absolution can seem strange and alien if it was not part of our life and culture, and sometimes daunting if it was! Sometimes it takes a poet to help us re-imagine the possibilities of being ‘shriven’, really letting go, being truly forgiven. This poem is from Seamus Heaney’s Station Island, a sequence of poems about confronting the past, letting it go, in order to be released, freed and unburdened for the journey of life. The whole sequence ‘Station Island’ is a masterpiece; but ‘XI’ is the jewel in its crown, containing as it does not only a fine emblem of sin and redemption, but also a powerful new translation of perhaps the greatest of the poems of St John of the Cross. The poem opens with the poet’s memory of having ruined a kaleidoscope he had been given as a child, by plunging it ‘in a butt of muddied water’, in his desire, even then, to see into the dark. This gift, ‘mistakenly abased’, becomes an emblem for all that is ruined and ‘run to waste’ in us. The kaleidoscope becomes an emblem of the gift of imagination itself, an instrument in which we may see refracted through the creation, the glories of God’s light. Our fall, collectively and individually has plunged this kaleidoscope into muddied water. The world we see habitually is not the true world at all, because it is seen through the sludge with which the kaleidoscope is encrusted, a sludge which Coleridge so charitably called, ‘the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude’. The question is, has the gift been ruined forever? Can the kaleidoscope surface again? Can it ever again become the ‘marvellous lightship’, the window into heaven? That is a sharp question, both for ourselves individually and for our whole culture. In this poem, Heaney suggests that it can: ‘What came to nothing could always be replenished’, and the replenishment, the restoration of vision, like the resurfacing of the kaleidoscope, is precisely the business of poetry. The monk to whom Heaney has made confession understands this absolutely; he understands that Heaney’s vocation as a poet comes from the same source as his own vocation to be a monk, and is therefore able to say, ‘Read poems as prayers’. It is not that Heaney is asked to, or would be prepared to sloganize for the Catholic Church, but rather that this cleansing of the instruments of our vision by the power of his imagination as a poet, is part of that whole restoration even in our darkness, of the vision of Truth which is the work of the whole Trinity, but especially in us of the Logos, the Word who is also the Light. This becomes abundantly clear in the poem Heaney goes on to translate, in which at last, after all his journeying, he arrives at and names the Source of that river which Milton named, ‘Siloam’s brook’, and Coleridge called, ‘Alph, the sacred river’. Perhaps we can see our own Lenten pilgrimage as a journey upstream to the source of that ‘fountain, filling running’ that is celebrated in this poem.

Station Island XI Seamus Heaney/St John of the Cross

 

As if the prisms of the kaleidoscope

I plunged once in a butt of muddied water

Surfaced like a marvellous lightship

 

And out of its silted crystals a monk’s face

That had spoken years ago from behind a grille

Spoke again about the need and chance

 

To salvage everything, to re-envisage

The zenith and glimpsed jewels of any gift

Mistakenly abased …

 

What came to nothing could always be replenished.

 

‘Read poems as prayers,’ he said, ‘and for your penance

Translate me something by Juan de la Cruz.’

 

Returned from Spain to our chapped wilderness,

His consonants aspirate, his forehead shining,

He had made me feel there was nothing to confess.

 

Now his sandaled passage stirred me on to this:

 

How well I know that fountain, filling, running,

Although it is the night.

 

That eternal fountain, hidden away

I know its haven and its secrecy

Although it is the night

 

But not its source because it does not have one,

Which is all sources’ source and origin?

Although it is the night.

 

No other thing can be so beautiful.

Here the earth and heaven drink their fill

Although it is the night.

 

So pellucid it never can be muddied,

And I know that all light radiates from it

Although it is the night.

 

I know no sounding-line can find its bottom,

Nobody ford or plumb its deepest fathom

Although it is the night.

 

And its current so in flood it overspills

To water hell and heaven and all peoples

Although it is the night.

 

And the current that is generated there,

As far as it wills to, it can flow that far

Although it is the night.

 

And from these two a third current proceeds

Which neither of these two, I know, precedes

Although it is the night.

 

This eternal fountain hides and splashes

Within this living bread that is life to us

Although it is the night.

 

Hear it calling out to every creature.

And they drink these waters, although it is dark here

Because it is the night.

 

I am repining for this living fountain.

Within this bread of life I see it plain

Although it is the night.

hidden_fountain_by_yoruichi_takashi

hidden_fountain_by_yoruichi_takashi

 

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Filed under christianity, literature

Holy Saturday: ‘He Comes To Harrow Hell’

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

This poem, the second in my sequence  ‘On Reading the Commedia’,  a new sequence of nine poems about the experience of reading Dante’s Divine Comedy, seems a good one to share on Holy Saturday, the day on which we think of Christ descending into Hell to bring his light and good news to the dead, as Peter says, ‘preaching to the souls in prison’. There are many ways in which we might understand that phrase in the creed ‘He descended into Hell’. Dante’s allegory suggests that at one level the hell into which Christ descends to set us free is the dark terrain of our own souls, the terrain he maps out and invites us to traverse in his Inferno.

My own poem is written in the conviction that that there is no depth or recess, no sin or secret, in me or in anyone, beyond the light of Christ, but we have to open the gate and let him come down to our depths, let his Light reveal and name and heal what we have hidden. Dante’s poem, his amazing cartography of Hell, is written to help us do that. So here is the second of my ‘Dante ‘ Sequence. As before, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

The whole sequence is now collected together and published in my book The Singing Bowl which you can buy on Amazon or order from any good bookshop. You can also read and hear the whole sequence on this blog, the final poem Here contains links to all the others.


Through the Gate

Begin the song exactly where you are

For where you are contains where you have been

And holds the vision of your final sphere

 

And do not fear the memory of sin;

There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,

Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

 

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils

And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,

Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

 

The hopeless gate that holds in all the  fears

That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide

And open to the light that finds and fares

 

Through the dark pathways  where you run and  hide,

through all the alleys of your riddled heart,

As pierced and open as His wounded side.

 

Open the map to Him and make a start,

And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark

His light will go before you, let Him chart

 

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache

To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind

Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

 

And muted gloom in which you cannot find

The love that you once thought worth dying for.

Call Him to all you cannot call to mind

 

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your

Well guarded fortress let His love descend.

The icy ego at your frozen core

 

Can hear His call at last. Will you respond?

4 Comments

Filed under christianity, Poems

On Reading the Commedia 2: Through the Gate

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

In my post of 5th February ‘On Reading the Commedia’ I shared with you the first in a new sequence of nine poems about the experience of reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. At one level the pilgrim in that poem is Dante, narrating in the first person, but at another level its all of us and the terrain he maps out and travels through is the terrain of our own souls. In this second poem I follow him through the gate and down the dizzying and narrowing spirals of hell, past the first and obvious heats and lusts, down to the frozen core where he imagines satan, frozen in ice endlessly and meaninglessly consuming the souls of others. But a key feature of Dantes journey is the realisation that Someone has gone before, time and again they see signs that Christ has been this way, that he has harrowed Hell, to take captivity captive and free the prisoners. My own poem is written in the conviction that that there is no depth or recess, no sin or secret, in me or in anyone beyond the light of Christ, but we have to open the gate and let him come down to our depths, let his Light reveal and name and heal what we have hidden. Dante’s poem, his amazing cartography of Hell is written to help us do that. So here is the second of my ‘Dante ‘ Sequence. As before, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

Through the Gate

Begin the song exactly where you are

For where you are contains where you have been

And holds the vision of your final sphere

 

And do not fear the memory of sin;

There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,

Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

 

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils

And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,

Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

 

The hopeless gate that holds in all the  fears

That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide

And open to the light that finds and fares

 

Through the dark pathways  where you run and  hide,

through all the alleys of your riddled heart,

As pierced and open as His wounded side.

 

Open the map to Him and make a start,

And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark

His light will go before you, let Him chart

 

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache

To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind

Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

 

And muted gloom in which you cannot find

The love that you once thought worth dying for.

Call Him to all you cannot call to mind

 

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your

Well guarded fortress let His love descend.

The icy ego at your frozen core

 

Can hear His call at last. Will you respond?

10 Comments

Filed under christianity, Poems