Tag Archives: David’s Crown

Who Knows This Agony? A Response To Psalms 88 &89

We come now to psalm 88, the lowest point of lament and despair in the entire psalter, the only psalm which does not have a ‘yet’ or a ‘nevertheless’ to redeem its pain, but, considered as a psalm in itself, ends in the same agony and loneliness with which it began:

My lovers and friends hast thou put away from me: and hid mine acquaintance out of my sight.

That is the end of the psalm, but it is not the end of the psalter, the book of praises. In fact, as Paula Gooder points out in the Introduction to David’s Crown, it is, in terms of the number of verses in total, the exact mid-point of the psalter, it is the middle, and not the end of the story. This is vital for us to remember: both that we can freely tell God our worst fears and feelings, as the psalmist does here, and also that we can know that those fears and doubts are not the end of our story, any more than they are the close of the psalter, for the psalter re-ascends from this darkness and closes with praise. It is this, which enabled me, in my response to psalm 88 to trust God with the uncensored bleakness of my own personal experience of darkness and depression.

And for that reason also, I have decided not to post this psalm alone but to pair it with psalm 89, indeed my poems for 88 & 89 are on facing pages in the middle of David’s Crown so that they can be read together. and the opening verse of psalm 89 is:

  1. MY SONG shall be alway of the loving-kindness of the Lord: with my mouth will I ever be shewing thy truth from one generation to another.

In my answering poem our agony, expressed in the poem on 88, is met by the agony of Christ who comes, in his compassion, to share our desolation with us, that he might redeem and heal it. and that is why these poems should be read as a pair.

As always you can hear me read the poems by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

LXXXVIII Domine Deus

My saviour’s words of welcome ‘all is well’!

Was that just some false dream I used to have?

I tremble once more on the brink of hell,

 

Soon I’ll be weeping in its lowest pit. The grave

Would be a kinder place than this. The dead

Forget, but I remember and I grieve

 

For all that I have lost: the green leaves shed

And stripped from me, my lovers and my friends

All torn away. Just emptiness and dread

 

Are my companions now. No one defends

Or speaks for me. Lord I have cried to you

And you say nothing. Empty silence rends

 

My heart in pieces. There is no one who

Can find me now, for who could ever know

This agony unless they felt it too?

 

LXXXIX Misericordias Domini

Who knows this agony unless they feel it too?

You answer me in darkness from your cross,

It is your pain that draws my heart to you

 

As deep calls unto deep and loss to loss.

Your covenant was sealed in your heart’s blood

When it is pierced with mine. And our cries cross

 

In flesh and blood as I encounter God,

Not on the heights, but in the pit of hell.

Then I can sing the triumph of the good

 

Then I can truly know all will be well.

I recognise my saviour’s mighty arm

Because it has been pierced. The bloody nail

 

Means more to me than those who see no harm

And keep God as a talisman, a spell

A cosy comforter, a lucky charm.

 

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All My Fresh Springs: A Response to Psalm 87

Psalm 87 gives us a moment of visionary uplift, much needed, before we plunge down into the shadows of psalm 88. It is a vision of Zion, the holy city, set upon a hill:

  1. HER foundations are upon the holy hills: the Lord loveth the gates of Sion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
  2. Very excellent things are spoken of thee: thou city of God.

But perhaps the most significant phrase in the psalm is the final one:All my fresh springs shall be in thee. This speaks of more than an earthly city but the deep well, the spring of love arising from the presence of God in our own souls, for the true Sion is within us. I sometimes wonder if John Milton had this psalm in mind in the moving section of Book III of Paradise Lost where he says that in spite of his blindness:

Yet not the more
Cease I to wander where the Muses haunt
Cleer Spring, or shadie Grove, or Sunnie Hill,
Smit with the love of sacred Song; but chief
Thee Sion and the flowrie Brooks beneath
That wash thy hallowd feet, and warbling flow,
Nightly I visit:

I certainly had Milton in mind when I wrote my own response to this psalm, and looked to him for example and inspiration in my own long poetic endeavour.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

 

LXXXVII Fundamenta ejus

Kindle these lines with all your quickening powers,

For all my springs of life arise from you,

And like blind Milton in his midnight hours

 

I visit Sion’s hill in dreams. I view

Siloam’s sacred brook and bathe my soul

In those pure streams that cleanse me and renew

 

My vision and my purpose, make me whole

And sound again. The city of my God

Shines clear once more upon his holy hill,

 

My feet are set upon the royal road

That leads me through these shadowlands, until

I hear the trumpets, and set down my load,

 

Beside the river bank and drink my fill

From that deep well of light at last and hear

My saviour’s words of welcome: ‘all is well!’

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Come Close And Comfort Me: A Response To Psalm 86

Psalm 86 is definitely  a psalm for these dark times: it’s a simple, heartfelt plea for help:

  1. BOW down thine ear, O Lord, and hear me: for I am poor, and in misery.

  2. Preserve thou my soul, for I am holy: my God, save thy servant that putteth his trust in thee.

  3. Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I will call daily upon thee.

  4. Comfort the soul of thy servant: for unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

I wrote my response during the first big wave of the pandemic and also as I was getting just over the half way mark in the long and daunting endeavour of wreathing together the poems for David’s Crown, and it seemed to me that my response to this psalm was also a chance to pray for God’s help in writing them and to dedicate the work, asking him to sustain me through this long, committed effort in writing. So it is from this poem that I draw the dedicatory verses set at the beginning of the whole book.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

LXXXVI Inclina, Domine

That we may flourish in your tenderness

Bow down and hear the whispers of our fear

Our restless misery, our emptiness

 

Without you.  Christ come close to me and hear!

Come close and comfort me in troubled times,

I need your mercy now for I despair

 

Of any other help. The telling chimes

Of every passing bell might be my own.

Lift up my soul, and breathe through my poor rhymes

 

That I might lay these lines before your throne

A frail corona wreathed of fading flowers

To set against the gold of David’s crown,

 

Wrought in the pattern of my passing hours.

O you, who raised me from the depths of hell,

Kindle these lines with all your quickening powers.

 

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Mercy And Truth: A Response to Psalm 85

Psalm 85 contains, in my view, two of the most beautiful verses in the whole Bible:

Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall flourish out of the earth: and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.

But we live in a culture that has divorced and separated mercy and truth. On the one hand the ‘truth-telling of a call-out culture shows no mercy, and on the other, the apparent mercy of laissez faire indifference, or instant affirmation of every behaviour, shows scant regard for truth. But what God has joined together we should not put asunder, and in Christ the prophecy of this psalm finds fulfilment, for when we behold his glory we find, as John the evangelist said, that it is ‘full of grace and truth’. And so it was that in my psalm I prayed for a healing of our split culture, and prayed to Cjrost that he would join together what we have split asunder.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

LXXXV Benedixisti, Domine

His peace refreshes like a holy well,

His mercy turns me round and quickens me,

Lifts me a little higher for each fall.

 

And now within this psalm he summons me

To hear a truth my nation has ignored,

A truth forgotten in captivity.

 

So open me afresh to hear this word:

Mercy and truth are met together, peace

And righteousness have kissed each other. Lord

 

How is it we have sundered them? Can peace

Be founded where there is no righteousness?

Some speak the truth, but speak it with out grace

 

And, calling others out, are merciless.

Lord, join together all that we have sundered

That we may flourish in your tenderness.

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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How Amiable Are Thy Dwellings: A Response To Psalm 84

We come now to psalm 84, one of my all time favourites! For me the psalmist’s delight in being in the temple finds its paralell in my love of the simple, ancient English parish church. I wrote my responsive poem when we were still in the first full lockdown and I couldn’t go into our parish church at all, but the first thing I did when we were allowed back in was to go in, early in the morning  when all was quiet and read this poem aloud in the church.

Thanks to everyone who attended our virtual launch for David’s Crown which was, as much as anything, a celebration of the psalms themselves. If you couldn’t get to the live event you can still watch it all here

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

LXXXIV Quam dilecta!

Yahweh saves, Our God is merciful

And how I long to enter in his courts

To nestle at his altar and to dwell

 

With him for ever. Day and night my thoughts

Are yearning towards the beauty of his temple

In swallow-flights of song.  For in his courts

 

Time is transfigured, opened out and ample,

It touches on eternity. I stay

Awhile within this church: its simple

 

Furnishings, and storied windows say

More to me of heaven than the pale

Abstractions of theology. A day

 

Spent in an empty church has been as full

Of goodness as an age elsewhere. I feel

Its peace refresh me like a holy well.

 

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David’s Crown Launch: Introducing my guests!

David with Bono and Eugene Peterson and his wife

I am very much looking forward to the webinar which will formally launch my new poetry collection David’s Crown this Thursday, and I thought I would take the opportunity, a few days before, to introduce the guests who will be joining me at that event.

David Taylor, an associate professor at Fuller and a brilliant contributor to the recent flourishing of Theology and the Arts, as an interdisciplinary venture, is also an old friend. I first met him at Duke University where I was poet in residence at the Duke Initiative in Theology and the Arts, and it was refreshing to find someone with such a combination of theological depth and cultural engagement. He recently amazed the world by curating, and then filming, a conversation about the psalms and what they mean to us now between Bono, of U2, and Eugene Peterson, of The Message. It was mesmerising and it is not surprising that Eugene Peterson wrote the Forward, and Bono the Afterword for David’s own recent book on the psalms Open and Unafraid! David’s book was one of my resources for approaching the psalms in my own poetry and I’m really looking forward to his response to those poems and his wider wisdom about the psalms.

Paula Gooder

Paula Gooder, the Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral, is one of the most brilliant and widely read of the younger generation of Biblical Scholars, and I, with many thousands of others, have sat at her feet at the Greenbelt Christianity and Arts festival. We have also spoken together at churches on the theme of Advent. As I began to post the poems that were to become David’s Crown online I was delighted to get a message from Paula encouraging me in my work and offering to help as a kind of scholarly biblical consultant, and I was, of course thrilled when she offered to write the Introduction to my book. It was Paula who helped me see the wood from the trees when it came to seeing the psalter as a whole, even as I worked on the details of the individual poems.

Roger Wagner working on his psalms book

My third guest is the distinguished artist and poet Roger Wagner. I had admired Roger’s paintings for a long time, and it seemed to me he was as it were a contemporary Samuel Palmer, someone who, like Palmer continued the mystical tradition, rooted in Blake, in which the eternal shines through and transfigures the temporal. More recently I have come to know Roger personally as we both have volumes of poetry with Canterbury Press and did some speaking and reading events together. Then, during the course of this lockdown, we collaborated on a joint work ‘The Quarantine Quatrains: a new Rubaiyat‘ for which Roger contributed a set of beautiful ‘miniatures’. It was whilst we were working on that book that I discovered Roger was also publishing a new translation of the psalms together with his beautiful woodcuts and paintings, also published by Canterbury Press, so he was the perfect person to complete my webinar panel for this Thursday and I’m delighted that he has agreed to do so.

The panel will be chaired by Christine Smith, the publishing director at Canterbury Press, and my indefatigable editor

So do join us on Thursday evening at 7pm GMT. The original set of free tickets ‘sold out’ but Canterbury Press have released a whole tranche more so there should be plenty of room. You can register Here. it says ‘buy ticket’ but I hasten to add that the tickets are all free. See you on Thursday!

Malcolm

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How Can I Pray This Psalm? A Response To Psalm 83

After the calm assurance of psalm 82, psalm 83 is, by contrast full of anger and enmity, a long rant calling down God’s vengeance on the enemies of Israel. How are we to pray it as Christians, knowing we are called on to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us?

In the end I felt it turned on the final verse which is about making known the name of God:

And they shall know that thou, whose Name is Jehovah: art only the most Highest over all the earth.

For the Christian the true name of God is not simply ‘Jehovah/Yahweh, but it is Jesus/Yeshuah which mean Yahweh Saves. Jesus absorbs all the wrath and righteous anger in this psalm and turns it into love, so that unlike the psalmist here we can proclaim peace, rather than war.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

There is also going to be a launch event/webinar on Feb 11th at 7pm GMT it will be completely free and you can register for it Here.

LXXXIII Deus, quis similis?

As kindred in our father’s house at last

We will make peace with one another. Yet

We still make war; we still live in the past.

 

Even the psalmist here is filled with hate,

As gleefully he lists his enemies

And calls God’s wrath upon them: ‘let 

 

Them perish, let them burn in flame’ he cries,

And puts his curses in the mouth of God!

How can I pray this psalm? Give me the eyes

 

Of Jesus, help me see the iron rod

Which only crushes sin to free the sinful,

That I may know the holy name of God

 

Is not a name of wrath, but plentiful

Redemption: Jesus, Yeshuah

Yahweh saves, our God is merciful.

 

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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Defend the Poor And Fatherless: A Response to Psalm 82

Palm 82 is one of those challenging, but ultimately encouraging psalms about God’s Justice. The psalm sets out the fact and character of God’s Judgement unequivocally:

  1. GOD standeth in the congregation of princes: he is a Judge among gods.
  2. How long will ye give wrong judgement: and accept the persons of the ungodly?
  3. Defend the poor and fatherless: see that such as are in need and necessity have right.
  4. Deliver the outcast and poor: save them from the hand of the ungodly.

My response to this psalm was written at a time when both the Black Lives Matter movement and the social inequalities exposed and brought to the light by the covid pandemic were challenging our complacency and calling for a prophetic Christian response, and I once more felt how relevant these ancient psalms are to our everyday life.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

There is also going to be a launch event/webinar on Feb 11th at 7pm GMT it will be completely free and you can register for it Here.

LXXXII Deus stetit

For things are not so hopeless as they seem

God stands among the rulers as a judge.

He has no partiality.  We deem

 

Ourselves better than others, hold a grudge

Against the stranger in our midst, reject

The ones who aren’t like us, but he will judge

 

The world in righteousness. He will reject

The special pleading of the privileged.

And bless the meek instead. If we reflect

 

A little, in this earthly pilgrimage,

On how he loved the ‘other’ and the outcast

Then we will learn to share our heritage,

 

Not keep it only for our kin and caste,

But gather as the children of one king,

As kindred in our father’s house at last.

 

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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The Lovely New Moon Shining: a Response To Psalm 81

After the sorrow and lamentation expressed in psalms 79 and 80, psalm 81 comes us a beautiful moment of uplift, with the sound of trumpets and the clear shining beauty of the new moon:

  1. SING we merrily unto God our strength: make a cheerful noise unto the God of Jacob.
  2. Take the psalm, bring hither the tabret: the merry harp with the lute.
  3. Blow up the trumpet in the new-moon: even in the time appointed, and upon our solemn feast-day.

Then the psalm looks back to all that God had done for Israel in the past, how he had ‘eased their shoulder from the burden’ and that renewed memory of grace gives the psalmist confidence for the future. My response to this psalm follows a similar pattern, and like the psalmist I have found that the beautiful clarity of the moon shining high above our passing troubles, becomes a symbol of hope.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title and you can find the other poems in this evolving series by putting the word ‘psalms’ into the search box on the right.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

There is also going to be a launch event/webinar on Feb 11th at 7pm GMT it will be completely free and you can register for it Here.

LXXXI Exultate Deo

Till shadows flee at last, and sorrows cease

Come down and ease our shoulders from the burden

To give our straining hearts some soft release,

 

Lest from sheer weariness they shrink and harden.

Refresh us with the memory of grace,

Remind us of your mercy, of that pardon

 

You won for us forever from the cross.

Then we will lift a lighter song to you

And glimpse beyond our loneliness and loss

 

The lovely new moon shining, and the true

Signs of the kingdom coming, where they gleam 

And kindle in the east, still showing through

 

This present darkness, even as a dream

Of light before the dawn. Send us a sign

That things are not so hopeless as they seem.

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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The Bread Of Tears: A Response To Psalm 80

Psalm 80 is a psalm of lament, a cry for relief uttered from the depth of sorrow and weariness:

Turn us again, O God: shew the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.

O Lord God of hosts: how long wilt thou be angry with thy people that prayeth?

Thou feedest them with the bread of tears: and givest them plenteousness of tears to drink.

In this bleak January, well into our third lockdown, with no end in sight, and so many cruelly taken from us by the disease, we all feel what it is to have been given ‘plenteousness of tears to drink’, and I felt it even back in the first lockdown in May when I wrote my own poem of lament in response to this psalm. But the psalm ends with a turning point, ‘ turn us again O Lord’, and so does my poem.

The full set of these poems has now been published as a book David’s Crown which you can buy from UK Amazon Here, or, in North America, it should soon be available from Amazon Here.

There is also going to be a launch event/webinar on Feb 11th at 7pm GMT it will be completely free and you can register for it Here.

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

LXXX Qui regis Israel

Lord hear our sighs and bring us swift release

For we have nothing left to us but tears,

No light, no joy, no strength, no health, no peace,

 

Only the strife, the dread, the strain, the fears

Of these dark times. Oh turn to us again,

Show us once more the mercy of those years

 

When you were forming us. Remember when

You called us out of exile, planted us

As your own vineyard. Was it all in vain

 

The way you tended us and nurtured us

That we might bear good fruit in joy and peace?

We have born bitter fruit, but come to us

 

And help us start again. Come and release

With your right hand the grace we have refused,

Till shadows flee at last, and sorrows cease.

If you would like to encourage and support this blog, you might like, on occasion, (not every time of course!) to pop in and buy me a cup of coffee. Clicking on this banner will take you to a page where you can do so, if you wish. But please do not feel any obligation!

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