Tag Archives: Poetry

Be Merciful Unto Me: A Response To Psalm 41

After the ‘new song’ of psalm 40 we find ourselves once more grappling, in psalm 41 with feeling after God and finding him in the midst of suffering. In many ways the psalm, which seems to have been written in the midst of both physical illness and personal betrayal, speaks deeply into our own times, as it speaks of the Lord comforting us and making our bed in our sickness. And for Christian readers of course it has that sharp moment that seems to prophecy the intimate pain of Christ’s betrayal by Judas:

Yea, even mine own familiar friend, whom I trusted: who did also eat of my bread, hath laid great wait for me.

And yet the psalmist, even as he cries for mercy, recovers and closes the psalm with a glimpse of the beatific vision and the sheer blessing and glory of God’s eternal presence:

And when I am in my health, thou upholdest me: and shalt set me before thy face for ever.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: world without end. Amen.

Here is my poetic response to the psalm. As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XLI Beatus qui intelligit

That you might make me whole in every part,

Have mercy on me now. Oh raise me up

And comfort me when things just fall apart.

 

For you have known this too: the grip and grope

Of suffering, the time when comforts fail,

The false pretence of friendship, the false hope

 

Of some relief, the sense of being frail,

Of being helpless, wounded, vulnerable

And worst of all the sickening betrayal

 

By those we thought were closest. Miserable

Dependence on the ones who’ve lost our trust

What can I do but cry ‘be merciful

 

Be merciful and raise me from the dust

Restore my health, because I cry to you,

You are my heart’s desire from first to last’

 

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Lo, I Come: A Response To Psalm 40

Just beforeI continue with my psalm series, may I say thank you to everyone for the many messages of support, prayer and condolence, you have sent to me after mother’s death. I have been greatly comforted, and it was of course a comfort and blessing to have been with her when she died, and to send her on her way home with poetry prayers and blessings. She was very much the source of poetry in my life, and one of my later psalm poems, which I will share with you in due course, is a thanksgiving for my birth and for my mother. There will be a time, later, on this blog, when I am able to say more, but for a now, as I am sure she would wish, I am going to continue quietly with this series.

Psalm 40 is a favourite with many people and with good reason. It celebrates being lifted out of the miry clay and set firmly on the rock, and being given a new song to sing. Then, at its heart it has that beautiful revelation that it is not sacrifice and burnt offerings that God desires, but rather that we should come to him ourselves with open hearts and minds:

Sacrifice and meat-offering thou wouldest not: but mine ears hast thou opened.

Burnt-offerings, and sacrifice for sin, hast thou not required: then said I, Lo, I come,

In the volume of the book it is written of me, that I should fulfil thy will, O my God: I am content to do it; yea, thy law is within my heart.

It was that theme of coming to him with all we are, heart and soul, which formed the core of my own response to this psalm. This poem was also the occasion to express the heart of how I read the psalms as a Christian, and in some sense the key to this poetic sequence:

I sing my psalm in Christ who sings in me,

A new song made in his Love’s mystery

Christ had the psalms on his lips in his lifetime and when, as Christians, we pray and sing them, we do so with and in Christ, whose coming as Messiah is prophesied in so many of the psalms themselves.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XL Expectans expectavi

The stone itself will soon be rolled away,

I wait in patience, all expectantly,

Firm on this rock above the miry clay

 

Where he has set me in his loving mercy.

I sing my psalm in Christ who sings in me,

A new song made in his Love’s mystery:

 

‘Your wondrous works all rise like wings in me

And lift my heart to praise. I hear your call,

The simple call of Love: Oh come to me,

 

Bring me no gifts, for I have made them all,

Just bring yourself, and open up your heart.

And so I come to you and bring you all,

 

All that I am and have been; joy and hurt,

Glory and shame, I bring you everything,

That you might make me whole in every part.

 

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The Shell Is Breaking: a Response To Psalm 39

‘Take thy plague away from me: I am even consumed by the means of thy heavy hand.’

This verse from psalm 39 will resonate with all of us in the midst of the covid crisis, and so perhaps will those verses about our mortality and the frailty of things in this world, verses calling us to set our hope more firmly on God:

‘Behold, thou hast made my days as it were a span long: and mine age is even as nothing in respect of thee; and verily every man living is altogether vanity.

For man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain: he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell who shall gather them.

And now, Lord, what is my hope: truly my hope is even in thee.’

For a Christian of course that hope is rooted in Christ, in his death and resurrection. This was all in my mind as I composed my poem in response to psalm 39, but so were those lines of Leonard Cohen’s, that it is just when you begin to perceive the ‘crack in everything’ that you also perceive that that is ‘how the light gets in’!

This present plague has prompted me, like many, to reflect that we must not return, afterwards, to our old ways, but must take this kairos moment as an opportunity to strengthen the things that remain and renew our true hope in Christ

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXXIX Dixi, Custodiam

Deliver me and raise me from the dead

For I have walked in shadows. Nothingness,

The vanity of things fills me with dread,

 

The sheer inanity, the pointlessness

Of how we used to live – we can’t go back

To that – the rush that masked our emptiness,

 

All the pretence that covered what we lack

When what we really lacked was always you.

I held my tongue, but I could see the crack

 

In everything we build and say and do.

And now the crack is widening. I pray

That we will turn and see a light break through

 

These fissures that so fill us with dismay.

The death we fear is birth, the shell is breaking:

The stone itself will soon be rolled away.

 

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My Groaning Is Not Hid From Thee: A Response to Psalm 38

psalm 38 illuminated manuscript

Psalm 38 is one of those uninhibited psalms that simply cries out to God in pain and distress, begging for help. It’s good that we have such psalms and are encouraged to pray them. So many of us were brought up thinking that we had to be polite to God, restrained and pious at all times in our prayers. The psalmist will have none of that! When he is in distress, he lets God know it in no uncertain terms and so can we. For God already knows our distress:

I am feeble, and sore smitten: I have roared for the very disquietness of my heart.

Lord, thou knowest all my desire: and my groaning is not hid from thee.

With its vivid account of the distress of illness, and its fear that the psalmist’s own folly or negligence may have brought the illness upon him, this is a psalm that speaks directly into the current crisis, whether we are suffering from covid itself or from some of the preventable underlying conditions that might make it worse.

Perhaps it also speaks into the isolation which has been such a distinctive note in this crisis:

My heart panteth, my strength hath failed me: and the sight of mine eyes is gone from me.

My lovers and my neighbours did stand looking upon my trouble: and my kinsmen stood afar off.

But the great thing about this psalm, in whatever age it is recited, is its complete honesty about everything, about pain, about guilt, about repentance. In an age of dissimulation, it is very refreshing.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXXVIII Domine, ne in furore

For I have found my God and my true friend,

And heaven knows I need his friendship now

For I am weak, my days draw to an end

 

Or so it seems to me, I sigh and bow

My head in bitterness, the stress and strain

Of chronic illnesses have laid me low

 

How can I praise you when I roar with pain?

Smitten with affliction and infection

No sooner soothed than in distress again

 

And made more bitter by the sad reflection

That half of this I brought down on my head

In folly. I deserve my dereliction,

 

My portion of disquietness and dread.

Forsake me not O Lord my God, make haste,

Deliver me and raise me from the dead!

 

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He Shall Give Thee Thy Heart’s Desire: a Response to Psalm 37

the cool inviting glades
Of my new life in you

In my new sequence of poems written in response to the Psalter we have come to psalm 37. One of the most trenchant, and the most comforting of the psalms, it puts the brief flourishing of wickedness in this world into its true context and invites us to re-orient our loves and desires, to delight in the true God who knows our hearts and will give us our heart’s desire:

  1. FRET not thyself because of the ungodly: neither be thou envious against the evil-doers.
  2. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass: and be withered even as the green herb.
  3. Put thou thy trust in the Lord, and be doing good: dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
  4. Delight thou in the Lord: and he shall give thee thy heart’s desire.
  5. Commit thy way unto the Lord, and put thy trust in him: and he shall bring it to pass.
  6. He shall make thy righteousness as clear as the light: and thy just dealing as the noon-day.

In my response to this poem I have dwelt on both the lovely promise that He will give us our heart’s desire, which is really the desire for God himself, and also on that image of the clear and growing light of his coming Kingdom. I also allude briefly to that passage in Milton’s Comus where the two brothers are discussing the problem of evil and one of them says

But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness…

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXXVII Noli aemulari

I’ll fret no more for passing wickedness,

No more than for the new mown grass that fades

To leave room for the growth and tenderness

 

Of fresh green leaves; the cool inviting glades

Of my new life in you, my heart’s desire.

The True Sun rises now, and soon the shades,

 

The last black shades of night, will ‘back retire

And mix no more with good’. Then I will sing

The song of my redemption in that choir

 

Where I, whom you have made, at last can bring

My song to its beginning and its end.

Till then I’ll be content with each small thing

 

Your love provides, and let the rich contend

With one another for their fading wealth

For I have found my God and my true friend.

 

If you are enjoying these posts, 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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With Thee Is The Well Of Life: A Response To Psalm 36

Chalice Well gardens in Glastonbury

After a little break for saint’s days and site launches I return to my new sequence on the psalms.Psalm 36, is one of those psalms that suddenly shifts in tone part way through and rises to the sublime. It starts, as so many psalms in anger and frustration at the manifest evils in the world:

MY HEART sheweth me the wickedness of the ungodly: that there is no fear of God before his eyes.

For he flattereth himself in his own sight: until his abominable sin be found out.

but then, from the fifth verse on our vision is suddenly lifted, quite literally, into the heavens:

Thy mercy, O Lord, reacheth unto the heavens: and thy faithfulness unto the clouds.

Thy righteousness standeth like the strong mountains: thy judgements are like the great deep.

And then comes, the master image of the psalm, one of the most sublime images in all of Scripture:

For with thee is the well of life: and in thy light shall we see light.

In my responsive poem I have dwelt on that image, together with the other lovely phrases that precedes it:

the children of men shall put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.

They shall be satisfied with the plenteousness of thy house: and thou shalt give them drink of thy pleasures, as out of the river.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

 

XXXVI Dixit injustus

As pilgrim souls on whom your light has shone

Let us leave judgement to your tender mercy

And turn instead to you, keep pressing on

 

Towards the steadfast heights, the mountain country

Of your holy presence. Let us drink

From that swift river, our true ecstacy.

 

Refresh us Christ, and bring us to the brink

Of that deep well where life itself is light

And goodness, more than we can dream or think,

 

Flows from your plenteousness, from your delight

In all your works, and where your loving kindness

Shines through our day and comforts us at night,

 

Like soft wings safely overarching us,

That we might put our utter trust in you

And fret no more for passing wickedness.

 

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Mary Magdalene: A Sonnet

The 22nd of July is Mary Magdalene’s day, and, returning to my sequence of sonnets written in response to the church year, I post this for her. As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on its title or on the ‘play’ button.

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 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 me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title.



Mary Magdalene

Men called you light so as to load you down,
And burden you with their own weight of sin,
A woman forced to  cover and contain
Those seven devils sent by Everyman.
But one man set you free and took your part
One man knew and loved you to the core
The broken alabaster of your heart
Revealed to Him alone a hidden door,
Into a garden where the fountain sealed,
Could flow at last for him in healing tears,
Till, in another garden, he revealed
The perfect Love that cast out all your fears,
And quickened you  with love’s own sway and swing,
As light and lovely as the news you bring.

 

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Ordinary Saints: a new website with poetry, painting and music

Self-Portrait by Bruce Herman

I am delighted to announce that a project on which I have been working over the last few months together with the artist Bruce Herman and the composer JAC Redford has come to fruition at last.

Over the last few years I have collaborated with Bruce and JAC on a sequence called Ordinary Saints which had its premiere in a live performance at Laity Lodge in Texas. It consisted of a series of powerful portraits by Bruce Herman of ‘ordinary’ people; family and friends, but with the aim of showing that as CS Lewis said, ‘There are no ‘ordinary’ people! I have written a series of poems responding to these portraits, and JAC has composed music responding to both the poems and the portraits. Our aim, throughout the project, was to explore what it means to be truly face to face with one another, how we might discern the image of God in our fellow human beings, and how that discernment might ready us for the time when, as we are promised, we will no longer see ‘through a glass darkly’ but really see God and one another face to face in the all-revealing, and all-healing light of Heaven. We had planned to take this exhibition and its accompanying music and poetry on tour and it was scheduled for Oxford this summer, but that has had to be cancelled because of Covid. So over the last few months we have worked together with an excellent web designer to create a website which should give you as close an experience as we can of that lost exhibition. After an introductory video you click ‘next’ and go to a ‘program’ page on which you can see all the paintings and hear all the music and recitations in the order we intended, and also, as you listen, zoom in on detail on any of the paintings. There are also tabs for you to click if you just want to focus on any one of the three art forms. The website is completely free, and you can find it by clicking Here. 

Bruce’s portrait of JAC

Bruce’s portrait of me made during the project

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To See Good Days: A response to Psalm 34

What man is he that lusteth to live: and would fain see good days? This is the central question of Psalm 34, and for the Christian praying this psalm we have an answer not only in the advice the psalmist gives, but much more fully in the life, the person, and example of Jesus Christ. For in Christ, the Lord whom the psalmist addressed has come into the world and shown us what it is to live life well and to the full, shown us, as St. Irenaeus said, that ‘the Gory of God is a Human Being fully  alive.’ I hope you enjoy this response to the psalm, you may get even more from it if you have the chance to re-read the original psalm first, but either way, I hope this poem will encourage you ‘to taste and see that the Lord is good’ and ‘to increase/The reach of love, the possibility/Of fruitful life together’

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXXIVBenedicam Domino

He raises and delivers us from death,

And even now he shows us how to live

That we might savour life with every breath,

 

That we might taste and see, might truly thrive

Might see the good days that he wants for us

And make the best of all he has to give.

 

And so he comes to live as one of us

And teaches us afresh the ways of peace.

He lives the fullest life in front of us

 

And shows us how to break the bonds, release

The captive, seek the truth that sets us free

To choose the right and do it, to increase

 

The reach of love, the possibility

Of fruitful life together, and to hear

The poor cry out and help them speedily.

 

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Sound A New Song: a response to psalm 33

My harp, my mandolin, my old guitar

After the harrowing intensity of confession and penitence in psalm 32 we emerge, in psalm 33, fully forgiven, into the freedom, release and relief  of sheer praise. I love the note of rejoicing, and the details about all the instruments in the opening verses of this psalm:

REJOICE in the Lord, O ye righteous: for it becometh well the just to be thankful.

Praise the Lord with harp: sing praises unto him with the lute, and instrument of ten strings.

Sing unto the Lord a new song: sing praises lustily unto him with a good courage.

As I began to write my poem in response to this psalm, I glanced around my room and realised that I had just such instruments as the psalmist mentions all to hand and in sight. From my writing table I could see my harp, my trusty old guitar, and a mandolin I am still learning how to play, so I thought they ought all to find a place in this poem.

The psalmist goes on to praise God not only for his faithfulness to us, but to his whole creation:

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made: and all the hosts of them by the breath of his mouth.

He gathereth the waters of the sea together, as it were upon an heap: and layeth up the deep, as in a treasure-house.

and those verses too found their way into my praise- poem.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXXIII Exultate, justi

A love that comforts and embraces us

Is the true theme of every song I make

How tenderly he finds, and takes and places us

 

Deep into Christ himself for his love’s sake.

The strings of all my instruments will stir

My heart to praise. Therefore I take

 

My harp, my mandolin, my old guitar

And let them sound a new song in his praise

Whose word is true, whose works so full and fair

 

Are radiant with glory, and whose ways

Are tried and trusted. The whole earth

Is charged and brimming with his goodness. Days

 

Are ordained to praise him, by his breath

The stars of night are kindled, by his love

He raises and delivers us from death.

 

If you are enjoying these posts, 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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