Tag Archives: Prayer

‘Hearken O Daughter’: a Response to Psalm 45

After another brief break, this time for a pilgrimage to Canterbury and beyond, I resume the love-worn thread of the time-worn psalter, and we come now to psalm 45. In making my response I was tempted, of course, by its famous phrase ‘My tongue is the pen of a ready writer’ to write about writing itself and make a poem about poetry. But there is an older and richer tradition of interpretation for this psalm and I was drawn to that instead. That older tradition is to draw from this psalm some phrases and images that help us appreciate and bless Mary, the mother of our Lord. The scripture tells us that all generations will call her blessed and rightly so. Scholars think this psalm, with its image of the kings daughters, the handmaidens, the queen in a vesture of gold, may well have been set for a royal wedding, but from early on Christians found themselves thinking of Mary when they read it, and so I have taken occasion of this psalm to write another poem in her honour. I was brought up in the reformed tradition, which tended to ignore Mary in reaction to what they thought was Catholic ‘mariolotary’ but anyone who venerates Jesus must stand in awe of the one through whose obedience and courage he came into the world, the one to whom God entrusted his upbringing, and who, in Luke’s gospel, is filled with the spirit and speaks prophetic words. There is a deep sense in which every Christian must be like Mary and say to God ‘ Be it unto me according to thy word’, and like Mary, try to bear Christ fruitfully into the world and bring others to him.

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.

XLV Eructavit cor meum

And still we live as if we have forgotten

But someone keeps all these things in her heart.

Who bore for us the only one begotten,

 

The Son of God. And now she takes our part

And calls us to remember all his mercy

Calls us with all our skill, and all our art

 

To magnify his name, for it is holy

For now she dwells with him, in joy and gladness,

The Mystic Rose of heaven, once so lowly

 

Whose heart was also pierced, who feels our sadness

And shows us how to pray. Each generation

Has known her help and presence, heard her witness

 

The great things done through her. In every nation

She nurtures those who bear Christ to the world,

Through her our saviour came, Love’s revelation.

 

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Smitten Into the Place Of Dragons: A Response to Psalm 44

After a much needed holiday, internet free in the remote parts of the Norfolk Broads, I am back and taking up again, the poetic thread of my journey through the psalms. We come now to psalm 44, a psalm at once of despair and hope, and a challenging psalm for  Christians to read. It speaks to our moments of despair because it describes the experience of feeling that God is ‘far off’ or even absent, and it laments the experience of defeat that we often endure in the world:

But now thou art far off, and puttest us to confusion: and goest not forth with our armies.

Thou makest us to turn our backs upon our enemies: so that they which hate us spoil our goods.

Thou lettest us be eaten up like sheep: and hast scattered us among the heathen.

And yet it also renews our hope for it invokes the very presence whose absence it laments:

Up, Lord, why sleepest thou: awake, and be not absent from us for ever.

But it is challenging because its context is battle and warfare, and we are rightly wary of invoking God to be partisan in our own bloody and sinful conflicts. One way for a Christian to read these battle psalms is to see them in the context not of our partial conflicts but of the ultimate struggle between good and evil whose front line runs through the centre of every human heart. In that ultimate and cosmic struggle Christ has already won the victory, and won it, not by bloody conquest, shedding the blood of others, but by shedding his own heart’s blood for all of us on the cross. The psalmist here complains that we have been ‘smitten into the place of dragons’ and ‘covered with the shadow of death’, but it is Christ who can really pray that line, for he entered death’s abode and fought with the devil, ‘that old dragon’ for all of us, and so my psalm ends with the passion and victory of Christ, which is, and always was, our only true hope.

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.

XLIV Deus, auribus

The living fountain whence I drink my fill,

Must rise in me before I sing this psalm

How could it ever be God’s Holy will

 

To raise an army, to inflict the harm

The special horror of a holy war

How could we ever conquer in his name?

 

Oh Jesus, did you sing this psalm before

You girded strength to brave your agony,

To fight the only holy battle for

 

The world you loved, and heal the misery

Of all mankind? As for us you were smitten

Into the place of dragons, victory

 

Was won for all of us, as it is written

And so in Christ shall all be made alive

And still we live as if we have forgotten.

 

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Bring Me To Thy Holy Hill: A Response To Psalm 43

Oh Jesus, show me once again the path out of my sadness

In many respects psalm 43 is a direct continuation of psalm 42, indeed some editions run them together, so this pairing of psalm 41/42 is a good place for my choice of the ‘corona’ form for this sequence of poems in which the last line of each poem forms the first line of the next, and at the end of my response to 43 I return to the image of the living waters which was central to my poem on psalm 42

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.

XLIII Judica me, Deus

Shucked of the husk of all my wasted years

I long to step forth, free of all encumbrance

To set aside the heaviness, the tears,

 

The sin that clings so close, the doleful hindrance

Of resentment and regret, to let them go

Roll them below the cross, as Christian once

 

Did in his pilgrim’s progress. Then I‘d know

A lighter step once more, the joy and gladness

The psalmist longs for here. Oh Jesus, show

 

Me once again the path out of my sadness

And set my steps back on your holy hill,

Send out your light and truth to be my witness

 

And since I cannot climb by my own will

Abide with me and be my will, my strength,

The living fountain whence I drink my fill.

 

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Living Streams: A Response to Psalm 42

Like as the hart desireth the water brooks

Psalm 42 is one of my all time favourites, I love its opening line:

  1. LIKE as the hart desireth the water-brooks: so longeth my soul after thee, O God.

In English, though not in Hebrew, this translation offers us that other sense of the deepest desires of the heart, which is, of course what the psalm is all about. And I love the image of the ‘water brooks’ the ‘living streams’ the ‘fontes aquarum’ as it was in the old Latin translation.

So it was a pleasure to make this response to the psalm, and to remind myself that though I am also an author of ‘dusty books’ and my words too have ‘rung from pulpits’, in the end it is not the words about God that we want, but God himself.

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.

XLII Quemadmodum

You are my heart’s desire from first to last

Like as the hart desires the water brooks

So longs my soul towards you, so I thirst

 

For living streams, not for the dusty books

They write about you, nor the empty words

That ring from pulpits, nor the haughty looks

 

Of those who market you. These are the shards

Of broken idols. I long for the deep

In you that calls the deep in me, the chords

 

That sound those depths and summon me to weep

At first with tears of grief and then with tears

Of joy, that I may sow those tears and reap

 

A timeless harvest, that the ripened  ears

Of grain may shine as clean and clear as gold

Shucked of the husk of all my wasted years.

 

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St. Clare: a Sonnet

This mosaic in Assisi, Italy, photographed May 28, depicts St. Clare of Assisi holding a palm frond, a symbol of her entering religious life. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

August the 11th is the day the church remembers with thanksgiving the life and witness of St. Clare.  She was the friend and companion of Francis, and founder of the Poor Clares. Her love for Christ, her share in the vision of St. Francis and her extraordinary gifts a soul-guide, friend, and leader made her a shining light and a clear mirror of Christ for thousands in her lifetime and still a light and inspiration to Christians from many denominations today.

Clare wrote:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!
And transform your entire being into the image
of the Godhead Itself through contemplation.
So that you too may feel what His friends feel
as they taste the hidden sweetness
that God Himself has reserved from the beginning
for those who love Him”

So here is my sonnet in her honour reflecting on how the meaning of her name, ‘light and clarity’, was also the meaning of her life. This sonnet is taken from  The Singing Bowl , which is published by Canterbury Press and available through Amazon etc.

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


Clare

Santa Chiara, lovely claritas

Whose soul in stillness holds love’s pure reflection,

Shining through you as Holy Caritas,

Lucid and lucent, bringing to perfection

The girl whom Love has called to call us all

Back into truth, simplicity and grace.

Your love for Francis, radiant through the veil,

Reveals in both of you your saviour’s face.

Christ holds the mirror of your given life

Up to the world he gives himself to save,

A sacrament to keep your city safe,

A window into his eternal love.

Unveiled in heaven, dancing in the light,

Pray for this pilgrim soul in his dark night.

 

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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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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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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.

 

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Renewing Love Through Crisis: a Response to Psalm 30

Psalm 30 is one of those psalms that seem to spring to new life and speak to us directly as we read and pray it through during this Covid crisis. It is a psalm of recovery, certainly, but of a chastened recovery, a recovery that  hi-lights our utter dependence on God’s unfailing Love, rather than our own achievements or prosperity.

Everybody knows and loves verse 5 of this psalm:

For his wrath endureth but the twinkling of an eye, and in his pleasure is life: heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

We rightly take comfort in that verse, but the key verses, for understanding this psalm are the three that follow:

And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be removed: thou, Lord, of thy goodness hast made my hill so strong.

Thou didst turn thy face from me: and I was troubled.

Then cried I unto thee, O Lord: and gat me to my Lord right humbly.

It is only after that humble return that the psalmist can finally say:

Thou hast turned my heaviness into joy: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.

So in responding to this psalm I felt that I could very much make its phrases my own and turn it into a prayer for our time.

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.

XXX Exaltabo te, Domine

He gives us too, a voice to sing his praises,

So much the more because we were brought low

That we might know we have a God who raises

 

Up the lowly. Our old riches made us slow

To love you, slow to turn to you in praise

But sudden loss and crisis made us know

 

Our true dependence on your love. Our days

Of false security are gone, we fell

Into a pit of our own making. Raise

 

Us up again, each out of our own hell

And give us oil for ashes, joy for mourning

Restore us in your love and we will tell

 

Of how through our long night we heard your warning

And heeded you, and found your love again

How night withdrew and joy came in the morning.

 

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