Tag Archives: Poetry

A pair of sonnets for St. John the Baptist.

So keep his fires burning through the night
Beacons and gateways for the child of light.

We pause for a moment in our poetic journey through the psalms, to mark an important moment in our other journey through the sacred seasons of the year. For now we have come to midsummer and the traditional Church festival for this beautiful, long-lit solstice season is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, which falls on June 24th, which was midsummer day in the old Roman Calender. Luke tells us  that John the Baptist was born about 6 months before Jesus, so this feast falls half way through the year, 6 months before Christmas!

The tradition of keeping St. John’s Eve with the lighting of Bonfires and Beacons is very ancient, almost certainly pre-Christian, but in my view it is very fitting that it has become part of a Christian festivity. Christ keeps and fulfills all that was best in the old pagan forshadowings of his coming and this Midsummer festival of light is no exception. John was sent as a witness to the light that was coming into the world, and John wanted to point to that light, not stand in its way, hence his beautiful saying ‘He must increase and I must diminish’, a good watchword for all of those who are, as the prayer book calls us, the ‘ministers and stewards of his mysteries’.

I have written two sonnets,  one for St. John’s Eve reflecting on the lighting of the fires and another for St. John’s day in which , in honour of the Baptist, I reflect on the mystery and grace of baptism itself.

I am very grateful to the artist Rebecca Merry  for her beautiful interpretation of this feast and these poems.

Both these sonnets were published in Sounding the Seasons, my cycle of seventy sonnets for the Church Year.The book is now back in stock on bothAmazon UK and USA  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.

As usual you can hear the poems by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title.

St. John the Baptist: 1 St. John’s Eve

Midsummer night, and bonfires on the hill

Burn for the man who makes way for the Light:

‘He must increase and I diminish still,

Until his sun illuminates my night.’

So John the Baptist pioneers our path,

Unfolds the essence of the life of prayer,

Unlatches the last doorway into faith,

And makes one inner space an everywhere.

Least of the new and greatest of the old,

Orpheus on the threshold with his lyre,

He sets himself aside, and cries “Behold

The One who stands amongst you comes with fire!”

So keep his fires burning through this night,

Beacons and gateways for the child of light.


St. John the Baptist: 2 Baptism

Love’s hidden thread has drawn us to the font,

A wide womb floating on the breath of God,

Feathered with seraph wings, lit with the swift

Lightening of praise, with thunder over-spread,

And under-girded with an unheard song,

Calling through water, fire, darkness, pain,

Calling us to the life for which we long,

Yearning to bring us to our birth again.

Again the breath of God is on the waters

In whose reflecting face our candles shine,

Again he draws from death the sons and daughters

For whom he bid the elements combine.

As living stones around a font today,

Rejoice with those who roll the stone away.

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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! Click on the title or the ‘play button to hear me read the poem!


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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Hidden Joys: A Sonnet for the Visitation

The feast of the Visitation usually falls on the 31st of May. It 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, and 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 . 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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Our Mother-tongue Is Love; A Sonnet for Pentecost

A Pentecost Banner at St. Michael ‘s Bartley Green

Here, once more is my sonnet for Pentecost.

Drawn from ‘Sounding the Seasons’, my cycle of sonnets for the Church Year, this is a sonnet reflecting on and celebrating the themes and readings of Pentecost. Throughout the cycle, and more widely, I have been reflecting on the traditional ‘four elements’ of earth, air, water and fire. I have been considering how each of them expresses and embodies different aspects of the Gospel and of God’s goodness, as though the four elements were, in their own way, another four evangelists. In that context I was very struck by the way Scripture expresses the presence of the Holy Spirit through the three most dynamic of the four elements, the air, ( a mighty rushing wind, but also the breath of the spirit) water, (the waters of baptism, the river of life, the fountain springing up to eternal life promised by Jesus) and of course fire, the tongues of flame at Pentecost. Three out of four ain’t bad, but I was wondering, where is the fourth? Where is earth? And then I realised that we ourselves are earth, the ‘Adam’ made of the red clay, and we become living beings, fully alive, when the Holy Spirit, clothed in the three other elements comes upon us and becomes a part of who we are. So something of that reflection is embodied in the sonnet.

As usual you can hear me reading the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem itself. Thanks to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful image which follows the poem.

Sounding the Seasons, is published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA . 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..


Pentecost

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today  the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire,air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.

Whose mother tongue is Love in every nation.

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And here, an a little bonus is the outline of a Pentecost Sermon, using this sonnet, by my good friend Cathy Michell:

Meditation on Malcolm’s poem: Pentecost

5 This is the feast of fire, air, and water

6 Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.

The 3 elements:

1) WIND

1 Today we feel the wind beneath our wings

3 Today the church draws breath at last and sings.

7 The earth herself awakens to her maker
8 And is translated out of
death to birth.

Acts 2 ‘Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house’.

The wind blowing yesterday and today – its roar and its visible effects – powerful, exciting/dangerous.

To the people of the Bible wind, breath and spirit were blended ideas (see M’s wind/breath in vv 1 and 3), all closely related in God who was seen to be all these things and therefore ‘gave ‘ all these things. The rush, roar and obvious effects of wind in nature, where paralleled by the equally obvious effects of breathing. In turn the spirit, the life in all creatures, was present because of the presence in them of breath.

In Genesis, when what ever existed or did not exist, was formless, void and dark, it is God who brings life, ‘a wind from God swept over the face of the waters’. Likewise in Genesis 2 we see God creating humans from the dust and then breathing into their nostrils the breath of life. Wind and breath are the same. They are of God and they bring the world and humans life, not just in the beginning but always. Just listen to the roar outside. Just listen to your own breath as it reanimates you over and over.

The prophet Ezekiel experienced the same in the valley of the dry bones. God tells the prophet that the bones will be brought from death to life (as M’s v8, ‘translated out of death to birth).

God says to the prophet, ‘I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live’. Ezekiel is instructed,‘Prophesy to the Breath..and say……’come from the 4 winds., O Breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live’.

In this passage all 3 meanings of the words ‘ruach’ (Heb) or ‘pneuma’ (Gk) (breath/spirit) are found overlaid upon each other. So Jesus in John’s gospel is seen to breath on his disciples when he appears to them one evening as they are locked inside a house after the crucifixion. John tells us that Jesus breathed on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

And then there’s that other account in John’s gospel about what Jesus said to the pharisee Nicodemus as they spoke about being born again. Here Jesus likens the nature and presence of The Spirit to the wind, saying,

‘The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of The Spirit.’ (Jn 3:8)

So we have looked at the key words here, wind and breath, but see also the word ‘awakening’ that Malcolm uses in v7. The Spirit awakens the earth, the disciples and us as from sleep. The Earth is awoken at its Creation by God. Each Spring is a new waking up from winter; we are woken by God’s loving spirit from our own deadliness, to a renewed eternal life (reborn as with was Nicodemus). And at our mortal, our actual death, we wake up to resurrection Life.

In Acts it is the Church that is reawakened and given ruach, breath and Spirit at Pentecost. It’s the scared, cowed, lost and grieving disciples in their lock-down who were miraculously given life again. And it was this that sent them out to ‘sing’ as Malcolm puts it – to preach their joyful gospel to all.

And how we are longing to do the same. To draw breath, as if for the first time, to sing again. But more than that – to speak new things, hope and joy; be heard and come alive again in this community. We want to be ‘translated out of death to birth’ again and to be agents of that Life that is Christ, to others. For this breath of God is also what inspires (inspire and expire!) us, what a lovely play on words. It is the life that is found in every creative act, every leap of the imagination, clear intuition, or innovative plan. There in art, music, song, study, craft or kitchen, in theatre or church. It sings out, it patterns our life in vibrant colour. It is what the Church is in constant need of, if it will let that wind blow through its dark, dusty and often closed down ways.

We need the wings Malcolm refers to in v 1, as he speaks about the wind blowing where it will. Wings allowing us to take flight and glide on the breeze carried aloft by the Spirit. These wings are also there to remind us of the hovering dove, balancing, held up by the air. The Spirit comes to us from God. It descends upon us and always hovers over the Church in blessing and protection. It reminds us of Jesus himself receiving God’s Spirit at his baptism. And we think of our own baptism and the life it has given us as we have journeyed a long time perhaps, in the company of Jesus. And this is why Malcolm’s second verse brings in our next element or image of Pentecost, and it’s…..

2 WATER


2 Today the hidden fountain flows and plays. (‘poured out’)

Water. Yes it is about baptism, but more than this, as water takes us back again to the Creation stories; the great sea over which God brooded; the rivers, lakes and streams emerging, even the great flood as it swept the earth clean of human sin yet led to new life, a new start – God’s promise to Noah through the rainbow sign, that He would establish an everlasting covenant of love with all humanity. And under that covenant (renewed on June 6th at the service in the chapel) we still stand.

Water, like breath, is essential to us. Just like our breathing, it is Life, it is God. And of the many Bible passages we might think of, it’s the story of Jesus’s meeting the woman at Jacob’s well that rings true here (John 4); their complex, subtle discussion about being thirsty, and about where to source a water to quench not only the thirst of the body but the craving and deep need of the soul.

‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water……those who drink of the water that I will give them, will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’

This water carries the Spirit within it, as Jesus rather enigmatically refers to again, when he and the woman go on to speak together about worshipping God.

John 4:23-24

‘the hour is coming’, says Jesus, ‘when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth………..God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth.’

There is so much here for us to reflect on – the meaning and impact of our own baptism; our own heart and soul longing to be refreshed and washed by Jesus the Living Water of our Life; how God’s Holy Spirit flowing through our lives may be known and listened to. And what might it be calling us to as individuals and as church in this place?

And so to our 3rd element…………….

FIRE (kindled)


4 As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.

12 All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace.

Acts 2 ‘Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each one of them.’

Look how cleverly Malcolm has used the double meaning of ‘tongues’ in his poem (and in the final line as well) to make us think, and to place this element of fire alongside what the Acts account says later about the disciples, that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and so praised God as if drunk on his good wine – with very loosened tongues!

If we were to think of just one Bible narrative of many that speak about God as fire, we have to turn aside, as Moses did, to the miracle of the burning bush. (Ex 3)

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

He is told by God in no uncertain terms, “Do not come any closer, Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. ……..At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God’.

The elemental power, glory, and beauty of fire – yes and its holy danger too – is one with the nature of God himself. The Spirit is not only God’s breath upon us, God’s living water pouring down into out hearts, it’s the fire of his energies, passion, love and desire, burning within us and lighting all around. This is what energised those fragile disciples in their cold, closed dispirited house. This is where we too may source our own energy and only by noticing and waiting on this Spirit of fire as Moses did, can we hear God’s voice and his will for us as Christians and as Church.

——————————–

And it’s to the Church and its mission that Malcolm turns at the end of his poem, by taking us back again to our Acts reading.


9 The right words come today in their right order

10 And every word spells freedom and release

11 Today the gospel crosses every border

13 Today the lost are found in His translation.

14 Whose mother-tongue is Love, in  every nation.

Pentecost is about words – and how appropriate then that Malcolm chose poetry, the craft of words, to express its truths in ‘right order’. The wind, the breath and the Spirit of God descends on the disciples, where God’s breath becomes God’s Word – that Word with a capital W which John tells us was at the beginning with God, ‘and the Word was God’. This Word becomes translated into human speech, into the disciples’ praise and preaching, into Peter’s sermon given to the crowds. And of course this translating power of the Spirit is understood by everyone, just as all humans understand wind, fire, water and spirit. This is the reverse of the OT’s Tower of Babel, an incomprehension wrought by human arrogance and sin. God’s Spirit makes all things clear, its wind blows away the chaff, its waters enliven and purify, its fire burns away impurities and forges new strengths.

These gospel words spoken now, cross every border. In them ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ as St Paul says (Galatians 3). These Spirit – inspired words embrace all those whose experiences of being human have breathed sorrow, hurt, illness, rejection, poverty, captivity, death. For them the Spirit speaks of freedom and release.

As Jesus says according to Luke’s gospel (Lk 4:18)

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

And as the hymn writer John Bell puts it so beautifully,

To the lost Christ shows his face,
to the unloved he gives his embrace,
to those who cry in pain or disgrace
Christ makes, with his friends, a touching place.

This is the Spirit’s work. And Her or His work is, finally, nothing more or less than LOVE – ‘whose mother-tongue is love, in every nation’ as Malcolm says. What more is there to say?

This Pentecost, let’s turn aside again to stand before the love of God, to hear again for ourselves love’s invitation and allow ourselves once more to enjoy its dove-like tenderness in our lives. Let’s sing again, ‘Come down O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine’. And pray that by God’s generous grace and through the Spirit’s life-giving power, we too, like those disciples, can be given the words and the energy that will send us out to live that great love in the world.

Amen

Cathy Michell may 2021 (Toft St Andrews)

Whose Mother-tongue is Love in every nation

 

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A Sonnet for Ascension Day

 Here is a sonnet for Ascension Day, the glorious finale of the Easter Season. I’m posting it a day in advance, in case anyone would like to use it in a service, either on the day itself or else this Sunday.

In the mystery of the Ascension we reflect on the way in which, one sense Christ ‘leaves’ us and is taken away into Heaven, but in another sense he is given to us and to the world in a new and more universal way. He is no longer located only in one physical space to the exclusion of all others. He is in the Heaven which is at the heart of all things now and is universally accessible to all who call upon Him. And since His humanity is taken into Heaven, our humanity belongs there too, and is in a sense already there with him.”For you have died”, says St. Paul, “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. In the Ascension Christ’s glory is at once revealed and concealed, and so is ours.  The sonnet form seemed to me one way to begin to tease these things out.

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 . The book 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.
As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears in your browser or by clicking on the title of the poem.

I’m grateful to Oliver Neale for the image above, the image below was taken as we launched rockets to celebrate Ascension day at Girton College:

We have lift off!

Ascension

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of Heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the heart of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we our selves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed .

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A Sonnet for St. Mark’s Day

A winged lion, swift immediate

The 25th of April is the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist, but the Church of England is celebrating it on the 26th this year as the 25th falls on a Sunday.  So I  am posting again my sonnet on St. Mark’s Gospel, one of a set of four sonnets on each of the four evangelists. As I re-read it during this lockdown, as we too make the shift ‘from grand to intimate’, I am struck afresh by the transition in Mark from Christ’s action to his passion, from doing to suffering, from being in control to experiencing with us and for us what it is to depend, patiently, on the actions of others.

For each of these sonnets I have meditated on the traditional association of each of the evangelists with one of the ‘four living creatures’ round the throne, and how that helps us to focus on the particular gifts and emphasis of that Gospel writer. For a good account of this tradition click here. Mark is the lion. There is a power, a dynamic a swiftness of pace in Mark’s Gospel, his favourite word is ‘immediately’! and that suits the lion. His Gospel starts in the wilderness and that suits it too.

But the great paradox in Mark is that the Gospel writer who shows us Christ at his most decisive, powerful, startling and leonine is also the one who shows us  how our conquering lion, our true Aslan, deliberately entered into suffering and passion, the great ‘doer’ letting things be done unto him. In this sonnet, I am especially indebted to WH Vanstone’s brilliant reading of this aspect of Mark in his wonderful book The Stature of Waiting.

For all four ‘Gospel’ sonnets I have also drawn on the visual imagery of the Lindesfarne Gospels, as in the one illustrated above.

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. 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 poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title.

Mark

A wingèd lion, swift, immediate

Mark is the gospel of the sudden shift

From first to last, from grand to intimate,

From strength  to weakness, and from debt to gift,

From a wide desert’s haunted emptiness

To a close city’s fervid atmosphere,

From a voice crying in the wilderness

To angels in an empty sepulcher.

And Christ makes the most sudden shift of all;

From swift action as a strong Messiah

Casting the very demons back to hell

To slow pain, and death as a pariah.

We see our Saviour’s life and death unmade

And flee his tomb dumbfounded and afraid.

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Hatley St. George; a poem for St. George’s Day

On St. George’s day my thoughts turn again to Hatley St. George. Lockdown has eased a little and it can be visited again, as it continues its silent witness. And one part of that witness is to declare that we have been through this before. Our churches have stood and held and deepened the faith for us through other times of pestilence, through change and crisis as deep as this, a witness ‘in all the changes and chances of this fleeting world’ to the deeper things that abide.

If St. George, as our patron saint, inspires English patriotism, then I’d say my own patriotism is not about wrapping one political party or another in the flag. It was certainly not about ‘Brexit, that kerfuffle that seems so irrelevant now. But rather it is about loving the little particularites of my native land. Not the big nationalist rhetoric or the aggrandising imperial history, but the patchwork of little parishes and quiet shires. That’s one of the reasons why I love little mediaeval church dedicated to St. George in the village of Hatley St. George, not far from here.

Though the church goes back to the fourteenth century , in the late sixties it suffered the apparent misfortune of a collapse in its sanctuary which was declared unsafe and taken down. A new east wall was built but the architects had the wisdom to set in the new east window an arch of clear glass. For beyond that window, across the still sacred space of what had been choir and sanctuary, stands the most beautiful beech tree, which church-goers can see now in all its glory , through the changing seasons, simmering above their altar.

It’s a magical place, but like many such, struggling for survival and recognition. I originally wrote this poem both to celebrate the church and to help raise funds for its mantenance. Do visit it if you can, once our lockdown is lifted, and support those who are working for its upkeep. One of the congregation has written this poem out in beautiful calligraphy and it is hanging on the wall there, and each summer I go and read it aloud for them as part of their summer fete. This poem is in my book The Singing Bowl which you can buy on Amazon or order from any good bookshop.

You can listen to me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. As you listen you will also hear the scatter of bright birdsong which lifted the early April morning where I read the poem in my little writing hut ‘The Temple of Peace’

the window of Hatley St. George

View through the window of Hatley St. George

Hatley St. George

Stand here a while and drink the silence in.
Where clear glass lets in living light to touch
And bless your eyes. A beech tree’s tender green
Shimmers beyond the window’s lucid arch.
You look across an absent sanctuary;
No walls or roof, just holy, open space,
Leading your gaze out to the fresh-leaved beech
God planted here before you first drew breath.

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
You cannot stand as long and still as these;
This ancient beech and still more ancient church.
So let them stand, as they have stood, for you.
Let them disclose their gifts of time and place,
A secret kept for you through all these years.
Open your eyes. This empty church is full,
Thronging with life and light your eyes have missed.

Stand here awhile and drink the silence in.
Shields of forgotten chivalry, and rolls
Of honour for the young men gunned at Ypres,
And other monuments of our brief lives
Stand for the presence here of saints and souls
Who stood where you stand, to be blessed like you;
Clouds of witness to unclouded light
Shining this moment, in this place for you.

Stand here awhile and drink their silence in.
Annealed in glass, the twelve Apostles stand
And each of them is keeping faith for you.
This roof is held aloft, to give you space,
By graceful angels praying night and day
That you might hear some rumour of their flight
That you might feel the flicker of a wing
And let your heart fly free at last in prayer.

If you have enjoyed this page here’s a little link that allows you to ‘buy me a coffee’ (or a beer if you prefer!)

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Easter Day: an Aubade

the sun is on the rise

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A Sonnet for Easter Dawn

The Lord is Risen! He is risen indeed Alleluia!

Heres is an extra ‘fifteenth’ sonnet for Easter Morning, which I dedicate to my friend Mary who asked me to write it, and to the memory of her husband Gavin. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Later today I will publish another Easter poem,  but this completes the sonnet series I have been posting throughout Holy Week.

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.

I am grateful to Oliver Neale for permission to use the image above. as always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the ‘play’ button or on the title.

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.

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Holy Saturday: Stations XIII and XIV

https://lanciaesmith.com

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. No more so than now, in the preternatural stillness emptiness and grief of this pandemic, when life is paused, but also perhaps poised on the threshold of the new.

When I wrote the two ‘stations’ sonnets I am posting today I was conscious 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.

That need, expressed in these sonnets bon to honour grief and yet to bring a whisper of hope to the grieving, seems more pressing than ever.

https://lanciaesmith.com

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  It is now also out on Kindle.

The Images above are by Lancia Smith,  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.

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