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Nativity by Scott Cairns

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

We return to Scott Cairns in my series of readings of the poems in my  Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word.The poem I have chosen for December 27th, is  Nativity, a beautiful reflection on an icon of the Nativity and how it draws us in. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above was created by Linda Richardson. Linda writes:

As I read this poem I discerned a kind of radiance and inwardness that fascinated me. Again there are glimpses of the Divine that may be missed if we are not attentive or prayerful. We lean in and see a “tiny God.. slip briefly out of time.. miss the point or meet there”.

In the image, I created a fissure in the virgin blue, and beyond that there is a brightness that cannot be touched. It is a secret brightness, obscure and transcendent and cannot be possessed by us. All of life is potentially prayer that deepens us and makes our ‘ordinary’ time more loving and creative. But prayer is not an intellectual activity but an activity of love where we learn to be near God and learn too, never to leave the holiness of his nearness as we go about our daily duties.

You can find you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button


As you lean in, you’ll surely apprehend

the tiny God is wrapped

in something more than swaddle. The God


is tightly bound within

His blesséd mother’s gaze—her face declares

that she is rapt by what


she holds, beholds, reclines beholden to.

She cups His perfect head

and kisses Him, that even here the radiant


compass of affection

is announced, that even here our several

histories converge and slip,


just briefly, out of time. Which is much of what

an icon works as well,

and this one offers up a broad array


of separate narratives

whose temporal relations quite miss the point,

or meet there. Regardless,


one blithe shepherd offers music to the flock,

and—just behind him—there

he is again, and sore afraid, attended


by a trembling companion

and addressed by Gabriel. Across the ridge,

three wise men spur three horses


towards a star, and bowing at the icon’s

nearest edge, these same three

yet adore the seated One whose mother serves


as throne. Meantime, stumped,

the kindly Abba Joseph ruminates,

receiving consolation

from an attentive dog whose master may

yet prove to be a holy

messenger disguised as fool. Overhead,


the famous star is all

but out of sight by now; yet, even so,

it aims a single ray


directing our slow pilgrims to the core

where all the journeys meet,

appalling crux and hallowed cave and womb,


where crouched among these other

lowing cattle at their trough, our travelers

receive that creatured air, and pray.

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Christmas Eve by Christina Rossetti

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

In my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word,The poem I have chosen for Christmas Eve, is  Christmas Eve by Christina Rossetti. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above was created by Linda Richardson for her book of responses to waiting on the word. Linda writes:

Some years ago I had the wonderful privilege of seeing ‘Dance’ by Henri Matisse. It was the one kept at The Hermitage, St Petersburg, and it was brought to London for an exhibition. It is nearly four meters wide and unlike like one in New York, the figures are not pink but a glowing orange, like reflected fire light. I was utterly overwhelmed when I saw it, and I was moved to tears.

The words, ‘For Christmas bringeth Jesus”, echo through today’s poem and are for me, the centre of all this season’s activity and the reason for our joy and celebration. In the image I painted there is no speech except that of the wildly dancing figures. They are intent on celebrating the Word made flesh, through their own flesh, and all around them the trees join in the dance. Above them the birds wheel about with the clouds and stars and the whole of creation redounds in joy and praise.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah 55


You can find you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

I should add that unfortunately the little word ‘a’ was committed from the first line in the printing of the anthology, which slightly spoils the rhythm. You can hear me read the proper text on this recording and I also post that corrected text below:

Christmas Eve


CHRISTMAS hath a darkness

Brighter than the blazing noon,

Christmas hath a chillness

Warmer than the heat of June,

Christmas hath a beauty

Lovelier than the world can show:

For Christmas bringeth Jesus,

Brought for us so low.


Earth, strike up your music,

Birds that sing and bells that ring;

Heaven hath answering music

For all Angels soon to sing:

Earth, put on your whitest

Bridal robe of spotless snow:

For Christmas bringeth Jesus,

Brought for us so low.

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O Emmanuel; a final antiphon and more music

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

In my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word,we come to the last of the Seven Great O Antiphons, which was sung on either side of the Magnificat on Christmas Eve, O Emmanuel, O God with us. This is the antiphon from which our lovely Advent hymn takes its name. It was also this final antiphon which revealed the secret message embedded subtly into the whole antiphon sequence. In each of these antiohons we have been calling on Him to come to us, to come as Light as Key, as King, as God-with-us. Now, standing on the brink of Christmas Eve, looking back at the illuminated capital letters for each of the seven titles of Christ we would see an answer to our pleas : ERO CRAS the latin words meaning ‘Tomorrow I will come!”

O Emmanuel

O Rex

O Oriens

O Clavis

O Radix

O Adonai

O Sapientia

I have also tried in my final sonnet to look back across the other titles of Christ, but also to look forward, beyond Christmas, to the new birth for humanity and for the whole cosmos, which is promised in the birth of God in our midst.

You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above was created by Linda Richardson. she Writes:

Within the ‘O’ I painted today there is a still point. Here the Virgin holds her Son Jesus, face to face. I imagine the sweet small breath of the newborn, the quickened little wick so tightly curled’, as he is held tenderly by his Mother, Mary.

The inspiration for this ink drawing came from a wood or lino cut. It is a simple image, quite different from the image of yesterday and reminds us to be simple when we come to God. How prepared are we to be emptied, to let go of our self stuffed fullness and cleverness? How radically are we willing to let God chisel off our pride so that we are open to the ‘Other’ who is God, who is our neighbour. Until we are emptied of our perceived ‘riches’ we will not be able to hear God or our neighbour who may be asking us for ‘spare change’, who may be from a different religious tradition, who may be our ‘enemy’. These are the thoughts I have as I look at this simple image. If we stubbornly cling to our own views and opinions, we can’t see a different perspective. Rumi, the Sufi poet says, ‘Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.’


You can find you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Once More Jac Redford has kindly agreed to share the recording of his excellent setting of this sonnet, which you can find on his record Let beauty be our Memorial You can hear his setting here: 

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

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A Hymn of Heavenly Love Edmund Spenser

An hymns of heavenly love image by Linda Richardson

An hymns of heavenly love image by Linda Richardson

Here is the next in my series of posts for Advent,  in which I read each day’s poem to accompany my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, alongside a series of reflective images kindly provided by Linda Richardson

Today’s poem is taken from Edmund Spenser’s Hymn of Heavenly Love. You can click on the title or the ‘play’ button to hear me read it and you can find my short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle.

Linda Writes about her image:

The theme of God’s love and action through Jesus is so unfathomable, so vast, neither words nor imagery are sufficient to grasp it and yet we continue to try. Words only refer to other words, images to created things. It is only through experience that we truly come close to the love that brings us peace, and even then only as a movement of heart and soul within us. Silence has so much to teach us about God, so the image I made reflects this silence. We call it faith because our experience is more often one of knowing about God in our heads, but actually experiencing that heart bursting glance of love is a rare occurrence.

In the painting, I imagine our fall into darkness, ‘enrooted in fleshly slyme’ in the dark paint at the bottom of the pages. Above that is the blue emptiness of the cosmos, but in one vertical line of yellow ochre, I imagine the act of the ‘eternal King of Glorie’, piercing the darkness of our consciousness, down descending into our heart and deepest being.

From An Hymn of Heavenly Love

Out of the bosome of eternall blisse,

In which He reigned with His glorious Syre,

He downe descended, like a most demisse

And abiect thrall, in fleshes fraile attyre,
That He for him might pay sinne’s deadly hyre,
And him restore unto that happie state
In which he stood before his haplesse fate.
In flesh at first the guilt committed was,
Therefore in flesh it must be satisfyde;
Nor spirit, nor angel, though they man surpas,
Could make amends to God for man’s misguyde,
But onely man himselfe, who selfe did slyde:
So, taking flesh of sacred virgin’s wombe,
For man’s deare sake He did a man become.
And that most blessed bodie, which was borne
Without all blemish or reprochfull blame,
He freely gave to be both rent and torne
Of cruell hands, who with despightfull shame
Revyling Him, that them most vile became,
At length Him nayled on a gallow-tree,
And slew the lust by most uniust decree.
O huge and most unspeakeable impression
Of Love’s deep wound, that pierst the piteous hart
Of that deare Lord with so entyre affection,
And, sharply launcing every inner part,
Dolours of death into His soule did dart,
Doing him die that never it deserved,
To free His foes, that from His heast had swerved!
What hart can feel least touch of so sore launch,
Or thought can think the depth of so deare wound?
Whose bleeding sourse their streames yet never staunch,
But stil do flow, and freshly still redownd,
To heale the sores of sinfull soules unsound,
And clense the guilt of that infected cryme
Which was enrooted in all fleshly slyme.
O blessed Well of Love! O Floure of Grace!
O glorious Morning-Starre! O Lampe of Light!
Most lively image of thy Father’s face,
Eternal King of Glorie, Lord of Might,
Meeke Lambe of God, before all worlds behight,
How can we Thee requite for all this good?
Or what can prize that Thy most precious blood?
Yet nought Thou ask’st in lieu of all this love,
But love of us, for guerdon of thy paine:
Ay me! what can us lesse than that behove?
Had He required life for us againe,
Had it beene wrong to ask His owne with gaine?
He gave us life, He it restored lost;
Then life were least, that us so little cost.


Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

A Sonnet for Trinity Sunday


Continuing my cycle of sonnets for the Church year. Here is one for Trinity Sunday which I am posting the day before, in case people would like to make use of it tomorrow.

By coming to us as the Son, revealing to us the Father, and sending to us the Spirit, Jesus revealed the deepest mystery; that God is not distant and alone, but is three in one, a communion of love who comes to make His home with us.

The Rublev Icon, above, shows the Three in One inviting us to share in that communion. If, as I believe, we are made in the image of God, as beings in communion with one another in the name of that Holy and Undivided Trnity whose being is communion, then we will find reflections and traces of the Trinitarian mystery in all our loving and making. I have tried to suggest this throughout the poem and especially in the phrase ‘makes us each the other’s inspiration’ and Margot Krebs Neale has taken this idea of mutual and coinherent inspiration and remaking in the remarkable image she has made in response to this sonnet which follows the poem, an image which involves the mutually -inspired work of three artists and is one picture woven of three images. She writes to me about this image:

“The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.”

sent me in this direction…

The picture of you is by Lancia Smith

the picture of me is by Peter Nixon

the picture of the infinite is by an artist i don’t know

the composition is by me

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears or on the title of the poem.

Readers who are interested in my use of the word ‘coinherent’ will find out more by watching the video of my talk about the British theologian Charles Williams, a friend and fellow inkling of CS Lewis which can be found here.

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 now 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..

Trinity Sunday

In the Beginning, not in time or space,

But in the quick before both space and time,

In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,

In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

In music, in the whole creation story,

In His own image, His imagination,

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.


Filed under christianity, imagination, Poems, Theology and Arts

Easter Day: Station XV and a Villanelle


image courtesy of https://lanciaesmith.com

image courtesy of https://lanciaesmith.com

The Lord is Risen! He is risen indeed Alleluia!

On this Easter morning I have already posted George Herbert’s glorious Easter poem but I thought I would add a couple of my own; the fifteenth and final sonnet from my Stations of the Cross sequence, and a villanelle for Easter which I composed one dark morning last year whilst out walking my dog. Lancia Smith has made a beautiful image with lines from the new poem.

This sonnet, and the others I have been posting for Holy Week are all 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‘s Signpost Music. The book is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of these 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.

As usual you can hear the poems by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

XV Easter Dawn

He blesses every love which weeps and grieves

And now he blesses hers who stood and wept

And would not be consoled, or leave her love’s

Last touching place, but watched as low light crept

Up from the east. A sound behind her stirs

A scatter of bright birdsong through the air.

She turns, but cannot focus through her tears,

Or recognise the Gardener standing there.

She hardly hears his gentle question ‘Why,

Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light

That brightens as she chokes out her reply

‘They took my love away, my day is night’

And then she hears her name, she hears Love say

The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.


On Easter Day 

As though some heavy stone were rolled away,

You find an open door where all was closed,

Wide as an empty tomb on Easter Day.


Lost in your own dark wood, alone, astray,

You pause, as though some secret were disclosed,

As though some heavy stone were rolled away.


You glimpse the sky above you, wan and grey,

Wide through these shadowed branches interposed,

Wide as an empty tomb on Easter Day.


Perhaps there’s light enough to find your way,

For now the tangled wood feels less enclosed,

As though some heavy stone were rolled away.


You lift your feet out of the miry clay

And seek the light in which you once reposed,

Wide as an empty tomb on Easter Day.


And then Love calls your name, you hear Him say:

The way is open, death has been deposed,

As though some heavy stone were rolled away,

And you are free at last on Easter Day.



Filed under christianity, Poems, Uncategorized

Holy Saturday: Everything is still

Holy Saturday by Linda Richardson

Holy Saturday is a strange, still day, hanging in an unresolved poise between the darkness of the day before and the light that is not yet with us. It has its own patterns and rituals that take up a little of that empty space of waiting. Children come into church to make an Easter Garden, exhausted clergy give themselves the space to venture a walk with their families and draw breath before tomorrow’s big declamations, those who have passed through the intense experience of a Good Friday three hours watch service feel strangely dislocated from the crowds of Easter Bank holiday shoppers that surge around the Saturday markets, and all the while for all the faithful who have made this journey through Holy Week together, there is a kind of emptiness and expectant stillness within.

I have tried to reflect a little of this in these two sonnets, which I have chosen out from the full sequence of fourteen I published on Good Friday. I was conscious as I wrote these poems of how these great Christian festivals, especially Easter and Christmas, draw up and carry with them some of our deepest family memories. If we are going to remember and miss someone we have loved and lost, we will do it now. So in the second sonnet I have moved from a contemplation of the women bearing spices and wishing they could at least anoint the one they miss, to focus on the many people who will visit graves and memorial plaques over this weekend, ‘Renewing flowers, tending the bare earth’. All those ‘beautiful useless gestures’, all that ‘love poured out in silence’ is, I believe, somehow gathered together in these three days and sown deep in the ground of God’s love, ready for the day when he will make all things new again.

Please feel free to make use of these poems in anyway you like, and to reproduce them, but I would be grateful if you could include in any hand-outs a link back to this blog and also a note to say they are taken from ‘Sounding the Seasons; seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year, Canterbury Press 2012′ so that people who wish to can follow the rest of the sequence through the church year, or obtain the book, can do so. The book has an essay on poetry in liturgy with suggestions as to how these and the other sonnets can be used. 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‘s Signpost Music. The book is now also out on Kindle.

I am grateful to Linda Richardson who has given me permission to share with you her series of remarkable paintings, ‘The Faces of Holy Week’. These will be on display, together with my poems, in the resurrection chapel in St. Mary’s Linton throughout Holy Week, do look in and see them if you are in the area. You can also look at these paintings and others on Linda’s Webpage.

Linda writes about this picture above:

In this image the impression of a face is painted on a piece of cloth. The face is still and silent, the cloth, shredded and torn. The colour is all gone, the humanity a mere imprint. We have killed the one who loves us. Life is exhausted.

Whenever I go to a funeral I always feel dull and empty afterwards and can never settle to anything. The emotion of the service is draining and I merely get through the rest of the day. But just as the land lies fallow in winter, ploughed and patient, on Holy Saturday we wait too. Waiting for most of us is a kind of suffering, whether it is in our cars or in a queue at a shop, but waiting can either grind our nerves or it can become a fruitful gathering of our inner selves as we live in the present moment. When we let go of the furious impulse to always be doing something, we might be surprised at the richness of the silence and stillness we encounter within us because the Spirit of God is always singing a love song to the Father in our hearts, if only we could learn to wait and be still.

the images below are taken from a set of stations of the cross in St. Alban’s church Oxford. I have also read the sonnets onto audioboo, so you can click on the ‘play’ button or on the title of each poem to hear it.


Stations Of the Cross


XIII Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross

His spirit and his life he breathes in all
Now on this cross his body breathes no more
Here at the centre everything is still
Spent, and emptied, opened to the core.
A quiet taking down, a prising loose
A cross-beam lowered like a weighing scale
Unmaking of each thing that had its use
A long withdrawing of each bloodied nail,
This is ground zero, emptiness and space
With nothing left to say or think or do
But look unflinching on the sacred face
That cannot move or change or look at you.
Yet in that prising loose and letting be
He has unfastened you and set you free.

XIV Jesus is laid in the tomb

Here at the centre everything is still
Before the stir and movement of our grief
Which bears it’s pain with rhythm, ritual,
Beautiful useless gestures of relief.
So they anoint the skin that cannot feel
Soothing his ruined flesh with tender care,
Kissing the wounds they know they cannot heal,
With incense scenting only empty air.
He blesses every love that weeps and grieves
And makes our grief the pangs of a new birth.
The love that’s poured in silence at old graves
Renewing flowers, tending the bare earth,
Is never lost. In him all love is found
And sown with him, a seed in the rich ground.


Filed under christianity, imagination, literature, Meditation, Poems