One of the set readings for this Sunday, whose theme is hospitality, is the beautiful opening of Hebrews 13 which reads:
Let brotherly love continue.Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
This passage of course contains a deft allusion to the story of how Abraham and Sara entertained three strangers in the wilderness and in so doing opened their tent and their hearts to the Lord who then fulfilled his promise to bless them with a child. In my new book Parable and Paradox I have a poem about that moment in genesis which you can read and listen to here.
But the phrase in Hebrews ‘angels unawares’ was also the inspiration, and indeed the title of a song of mine which I have included on the new record Songs and Sonnets, which will very soon be available through iTunes etc and for order on the web.The song reflects on the many and various ways God sends his messages and his messengers to us. But as a reflection for tomorrow I thought I would post the lyrics here and also give you a chance to listen to one of the earlier mixes of the song, the final version of which is on the record. If you would like to use these lyrics or the song itself as part of a service please feel free to do so. I hope you enjoy it
Some people say that life is just a given thing
but you and I both know by whom its lent
and that its right here in the dirt
where we’ve both been loved and hurt
that Love Himself has come to pitch His tent
sometimes we’re in the fields of holy roses
other times we’re rolling in the tares
breaking bread and sharing wine
did I feel your hand touch mine
or did we both touch angels unawares?
Abraham’s down by the oaks of Mamre
and Joseph dreams beside an empty barn
theres a woman by the well with dreams no man can tell
though a broken man might keep her safe from harm
Theres someone else inside this fiery furnace
and Jacob’s gazing up those endless stairs
we are wounded on the road, but we share each others load,
and make each other angels unawares
Everybody backs into the future
everyone’s just feeling for it blind
sometimes we get lost and the threads of our lives get crossed
but I’m sure glad yours got tangled up with mine
the day is gone and I know I should be going
theres barely light enough to say our prayers
ah but give me leave the while for to turn and see you smile
I ought to begin this post by apologising for the strange little missive of indiscriminate gobbledygook which some of you may have glimpsed on these pages and even received in your emails. This was neither a rash experiment in free verse, nor, as some surmised, a bad translation of Welsh, but was in fact the free and random creation of the phone in my pocket! The mischievous little device not only switched itself on but also opened my wordpress app and managed to post its randomness to the world at large – perhaps my phone will in the end be due for its own literary prize!
But to return to something more deliberate, here is the second instalment of my North American Adventures. After my teaching stint at Regent and my joint reading with Luci Shaw my wife Maggie came out and joined me for 10 days holiday up in the mountains at Whistler where a kind friend had generously lent us his holiday house. Whistler is most famous as a ski resort and the scene of the Winter Olympics but it is also delightful in the summertime and home to a thriving colony of black bears some of whom we were fortunate to see whilst we were there. We hiked on trails, went wilderness canoing and took the impressive ‘gondola’ ride up to the top of whistler mountain and had a lovely walk up on the snowy heights.
Poetry: The original Olympic sport!
I wrote no poetry whilst I was there, in a sense I felt the mountains were already doing it for me, but I took in great store of beautiful images which I hope will impress themselves into verse at some time in the future. I took occasion whilst I was up there to stand on the winter olympics podium and reinstate poetry as an olympic sport!
Another hi-light of this BC sojourn was meeting again with Roy Salmond the producer of my new CD ‘Songs and Sonnets’, which I know a number of you have kindly helped on its way through a crowdfunding page. and Behold! Roy had the CD fresh in his hand when we met. So it is in the world at last and there will be a more formal launch next month about which I will write in due course. I’m very happy with the result. Here is one of the poems I recorded for the CD ,which also contains songs and poems set to music:
With the indefatigable and ever-generous Jerry Root!
Then, when the holiday was over we drove down to the States and took the ferry to Orcas Island where I spent a happy few days at the Kindlingsfest, speaking about the notion of Sabbath and rest and meeting with old friends. Amongst these was Jerry Root who had brought me the gift of an American College Football T-shirt bearing the legend ‘Fear the Poet’! This is a genuine football supporters’ shirt, apparently the emblem of the Whittier College football team is the poet after whom the college is named
Then began the next part of the adventure, a flight to Alberquerque and a wonderful week in Santa Fe and the chance to meet one of my favourite bands of all time: Over The Rhine! more about that in the next post.
I’m just back from an exhausting, but stimulating, expedition to North America in which I travelled from Boston to Vancouver, from Seattle to Albuquerque, from Santa Fe to LA and then home, so I thought I’d share a little of my adventures on the way.
The adventures began flying in to Boston so as to speak at the CS Lewis Foundation‘s Eastern Regional conference in Amherst. The Conference was on the theme of Lewis and Truth in the Public square and I gave a keynote address, preached a sermon on the Sunday and led a seminar on poetry as well as giving a reading/performance of my songs and sonnets. There was an impressive mix of people from many walks of life and many different churches all drawn by the common strand of Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and the sense that his plea for the Faith as offering truths robust and relevant in the ‘public square’ and not just a private ‘lifestyle option was well worth exploring. A highlight of that conference for me was a visit to emily Dickinson’s house still preserved just as it was. Seeing the tiny desk on which she wrote such great poetry inspired a new poem in me which I have given in a separate blog post here.
Then it was a flight to Vancouver to spend a week at Regent College teaching a course called ‘ Poetic reflections on the sayings of Jesus’ which gave me a chance to develop the themes and ideas set out in my new poetry sequence Parable and Paradox. One of those themes was the way in which Jesus, in all his teachings, appeals directly to the imagination, as well as to the reason. In parables and paradoxes he asks us to imagine what the kingdom is like and to begin living, even now, as if we were already in it! Two poems in the new collection, particularly bring that into focus: ‘ As If’ and ‘Imagine’. The latter poem is also my own response to John Lennon’s song of the same name! As always you can hear the poetry by clicking on the title or the play button so here they are:
Luke 6:37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Do not judge and you will not be judged.
Imagine if we took these words to heart,
Unselved ourselves and took another’s part,
Silenced the accuser, dropped the grudge…
Do not condemn, you will not be condemned.
Imagine if we lived our lives from this
And met each other’s outcasts face to face,
Imagine if the blood-dimmed tide was stemmed.
Forgive and you yourselves will be forgiven.
What if we walked together on this path,
What if the whole world laid aside it’s wrath,
And things were done on earth as though in heaven,
As though the heart’s dark knots were all undone,
As though this dreamer weren’t the only one?
With Luci Shaw at Regent College
My week at Regent ended with a wonderful invitation to join the poet Luci Shaw in one of her poetry readings, and so I had the opportunity to read to Luci in person, the poem I had written for her and published in Parable and Paradox. As always you can hear the poetry by clicking on the title or the play button. Here it is:
Whilst I was speaking at a CS Lewis conference in Amherst I had the opportunity to visit Emily Dickinson’s house, now beautifully preserved as the Emily Dickinson Museum. And so I came to stand in that ‘mighty room’ where all the poems were written, and there, plain and simple and strangely, paradoxically, small was her little desk: a small square writing table. I was filled with wonder at how much had flowed from so small a space, but then I thought about Dickinson’s characteristically concentrated and terse verse forms; those compact and concentrated little quatrains with the emphatic dashes linking and yet binding in the energy of her phrases, and it seemed to me the smallness of the desk was itself part of the form of the poetry, part of her gift.
Anyway the whole experience stirred me on to this: (as always you can hear me read it you click on the title or the play button)
I am delighted to say that we are well on with the project of recording my new record Songs and Sonnets, produced by Roy Salmond and Steve Bell. As a taster I thought I would share with you one of the poems on the record; Saying the Names. It was the poem which inspired the Faye Hall Painting that adorns the cover of the record. I had written the poem out by hand for her and she in turn incorporated these hand written lines from the poem throughout her painting, which I hope you can see in the image above. We are nearly, but not quite ‘there’ in our attempts to raise the funds to make this album’s production and release possible and if you would like to go over to the Gofundme Page‘, take a look at the video which tells you more and decide whether you would like to support it, that would be great. The record has both spoken word and song, and some of the poems also have a gentle musical or soundscape commentary as you will hear when you listen to this one. I hope you enjoy it. You can listen to the poem on Roy’s Soundcloud Page by clicking on the title, or from my files by clicking on the ‘play’ button. I have also given you all the words of the poem on this page. It was first published in my Canterbury Press book The Singing Bowl
As 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!
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.’”
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 Fourth, De Magistro.’ This poem is set for Thursday in The Word in the wilderness and the introduction is taken from that book.
Many of us can probably point to a figure like Virgil in our lives, not only an author, but a living friend and teacher, who meets us at the right moment, sets us on a good path and guides on our journey. In this poem, I celebrate someone who did that for me, the teacher, in fact, with whom I first read Dante. My poem takes its point of departure from the moment of transition we considered in Wednesday’s end of the Inferno when the poets emerge at last from the dark and see again the sky and stars, and their preparation to begin the painful and yet joyful ascent of Mount Purgatory.
Again and again I find Dante’s poem gives me glimpses of places I have been, and places I may well yet find myself, and in doing so it gives me a map, and with the map, a way forward. When I wrote this poem I was emerging from period of depression. I was grateful to be past the worst but I realized that I had work to do, things to redeem, an ascent to make. To do so I had to call to mind all the resources available to me, and I found myself summoning the powers of the poetry I had read, the insights and example of the teachers who had guided me, and above all concentrating, as they had done, on the joyful task of teaching itself. The title of this poem, ‘De Magistro’, means ‘Of the Teacher’ and it is also the title of a little book by St Augustine, co-written as a dialogue with his beloved son Adeodatus, in which father and son explore together what it means to learn and to teach and come to the conclusion that at any moment when we suddenly ‘recognize’ a truth, and make a glad, inner assent to it, it is not the outward and visible teacher, the person in the room, who is the ultimate source of that truth and that assent, but rather an ‘inner’ teacher, deep within us, a source of light and truth to whom we have brought each proposition for confirmation, and that teacher, said Augustine is Christ, himself, the Logos, the Word in each of us, who guides us through the wilderness. At such moments of joyful recognition both teacher and pupil discern the Word in and through one another, and in and through the words they share.
Dante’s poem begins ‘in a dark wood’ in ‘midmost of the path of this life’. Sometimes words themselves can seem like a tangled wood, but a good teacher can show us the path, and guide us gradually to find the true source of all language and meaning in Christ the logos, and I have tried to evoke that experience in this poem, in the lines:
In mid-most of the word-wood is a path
That leads back to the springs of truth in speech.
You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,
You showed me how my halting words might reach
To the mind’s maker, to the source of Love,
And so you taught me what it means to teach.
Perhaps, in the midst of this Lenten journey this is a good time to remember, give thanks and pray for those teachers, official and unofficial, through whom Christ has ‘brought us safe thus far’.