Tag Archives: Reflections

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.

 

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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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Lord Convert Me: A Response To Psalm 35

Psalm 35 is one of those powerful psalms that epitomises for us one of the great challenges of the whole psalter. How are we to read those psalms in which the psalmist, suffering deep injustice, calls on God to act on his behalf and to bring swift justice against his oppressors? So this psalm opens:

  1. PLEAD thou my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: and fight thou against them that fight against me.
  2. Lay hand upon the shield and buckler: and stand up to help me.
  3. Bring forth the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
  4. Let them be confounded and put to shame, that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion, that imagine mischief for me.
  5. Let them be as the dust before the wind: and the angel of the Lord scattering them.
  6. Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the Lord persecute them.

This is tough stuff. Are we to throw up our hands and say, ‘we are Christians now, we can’t possibly pray this sort of thing, for we have been commanded to love our enemies’? That is true of course, but hidden in such a  response is the comfortable assumption that we are with the psalmist, that we are the good guys, and that these enemies and oppressors are always someone else. But supposing it is the other way round? Supposing right now there are people praying this psalm to God who, with some justice, regard us as the oppressor and are calling for God to deal with us. After all this psalm was prayed, and still is prayed, by devout Jews whom Christians were persecuting, and in some places still are persecuting. This psalm was prayed by African Americans from slavery days through the civil rights movement and even today, when their oppressors were, and sometimes are, fellow Christians. Is it prayed today by Christians in minority groups here in England and all over the world who are being in one way or another being exploited or marginalised? What if it turns out that we are on the wrong side of this psalm, that it is on us, and not on others that some desperate person is calling down God’s justice?

I think we must respond in two ways. As far as we have enemies or are mistreated ourselves then we must complain to God but also ask for mercy on our oppressors, knowing that in Christ God has already dealt with the sin and suffered the punishment that our oppressors deserve. But we must also seriously and soberly ask God to show us if we are the oppressors here, and seek his forgiveness, and beg him to convert us, to change our hearts, to teach us to join with him in his solidarity with the poor.

When I came to write my poem in response to this psalm I found myself praying exactly that prayer and I am glad that this sharp piece of scripture taught me to do so.

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.

XXXV Judica, Domine

The poor cry out, Oh help them speedily

And plead their cause, though it may not be mine

The psalmist here is sure in crying ‘help me’!

 

But he was poor himself. Help me divine

How these sharp psalms call out for change in me

Lest I should be an ‘enemy of thine’,

 

And find the poor, who cry to you for mercy,

Have cried against me too! Oh let me not

Be numbered with these scoffers, Lord convert me,

 

Show me with whom I ought to share my lot,

For whom I ought to put the sackloth on,

Whom you remember, whom I have forgot,

 

That having wept with them and helped them on

To better things, we may rejoice together

As pilgrim souls on whom your light has shone.

 

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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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The Relief of Honesty: A response to Psalm 32

Arriving at psalm 32, we come to one of the great ‘penitential psalms’, a group of psalms  often used in the season of Lent, or at anytime to express personal confession and contrition. But that doesn’t make it a gloomy psalm, it’s a beautiful psalm because in the same breath that it calls for confession, it proclaims forgiveness. It opens with a ‘Beatus’, a beatitude, a blessing:

  1. BLESSED is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven: and whose sin is covered.

The key to this psalm is the observation that hiding and repressing the truth about oneself only makes things worse: ‘For while I held my tongue: my bones consumed away’, and then, after honest confession and forgiveness comes that beautiful line:

Thou art a place to hide me in, thou shalt preserve me from trouble: thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.

My poem in response to this psalm takes a necessarily more personal tone but I hope it can in that sense be personal to all its readers.

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.

XXXII Beati, quorum

In your deep silence and your mystery

You led me to confess and be forgiven.

You gave me the relief of honesty.

 

How long and bitterly I might have striven

With all the guilt that I could hardly name

How painfully my heart might have been riven

 

By hidden memories and secret shame

Instead you blessed me with a new beginning

Unbound me from bands and brands of blame

 

My false accounts of losing or of winning

And called me to come forth like Lazarus

And start my life again, rejoicing, singing

 

Baptised and born in your mysterious

And all-involving love, a love that lifts,

A love that comforts and embraces us.

 

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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Held Together And Re-Membered: a response to psalm 31

“Held together and remembered’ BATONI – le retour du fils prodigue

Psalm 31 is one of those psalms that expresses best the paradox of the whole psalter: that even when we feel like we are falling apart we are still held together by God, even when we cry to God that we have been forgotten, God still remembers us. So even though the psalmist tells God exactly how he is feeling:

I am clean forgotten, as a dead man out of mind: I am become like a broken vessel.

he can still come in the same psalm to the great ‘nevertheless’ on which so many of the psalms often turn:

Nevertheless, thou heardest the voice of my prayer: when I cried unto thee.

But the other phrase in this psalm which it seemed to me really spoke into our time as I prayed it was in verse 15: ‘fear is on every side’

Perhaps because the psalmist is honest about this fear he finds that God has an answer for it and gives us that mysterious and beautiful verse in which he reveals that God has a secret meeting place with all of us who trust him even in the midst of our fears:

Thou shalt hide them privily by thine own presence from the provoking of all men: thou shalt keep them secretly in thy tabernacle from the strife of tongues.

The internet and 24 hour news means that we live, even more than the psalmist, amidst ‘the strife of tongues’, what I have called in my poem the ‘cacophony of condemnations’, so we have all the more need of that secret and all restoring tryst with our Lord in his deep silence and his mystery.

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.

XXXI In te, Domine, speravi

 

The night withdrew and joy came in the morning,

When I remembered that I was remembered,

That even through the bitter tears of mourning

 

I was sustained, the darkest powers were hindered

In their insidious work within my soul

And I was held together and re-membered

 

By your unceasing love. You made me whole

When all the world was tearing me apart.

When there was fear on every side, you stole

 

Into the secret garden of my heart

A good thief in the night, and hid with me

In your strong tabernacle, held apart

 

From all that strife of tongues, cacophony

Of condemnations, so you kept me safe

In your deep silence and your mystery.

 

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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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The Voice of the Lord: a response to Psalm 29

Psalm 29 is one of those short psalms that thrills with an intense, almost electric poetic charge. It is a celebration of  ‘the voice of the Lord’ singing and ringing through nature and yet resounding and commanding from above and beyond nature:

It is the Lord that commandeth the waters: it is the glorious God that maketh the thunder.

It is the Lord that ruleth the sea; the voice of the Lord is mighty in operation: the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice.

The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedar-trees: yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Libanus.

He maketh them also to skip like a calf: Libanus also, and Sirion, like a young unicorn.

The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness: yea, the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Cades.

A Christian praying and responding to this psalm does so knowing that the Lord whose voice is celebrated in this psalm is Christ, whose voice is also within us as well as beyond us, who speaks to us in the voices of the poor and in his own Passion and compassion.

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.

XXIX Afferte Domino

Call us oh Christ, and open up the gate

Call us to worship, with your mighty voice:

The voice that sings through rivers in full spate

 

The voice in which the forests all rejoice

The voice that rolls through thunderclouds, and calls

The deep seas and steep waves, the quiet voice

 

That stirs our sleeping conscience and recalls

Us to the love we had abandoned, leads

Us through the parting mists of doubt, or falls

 

Upon us like a revelation, pleads

With us upon the poor’s behalf, blazes

In glory from each burning bush, and bleeds

 

Out from compassion’s wounds, raises

Our spirits till we dance for joy

And gives us too, a voice to sing his praises.

 

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A Heart That Dances: Responding to Psalm 28

Returning to our psalm sequence we have come to psalm 28, another psalm which calls for and summons up strength and comfort, and, something more than comfort -Joy. For me, and for many others the key verse of this psalm is verse 8:

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart hath trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart danceth for joy, and in my song will I praise him.

There is a beautiful movement there from strength and protection into trust, and through trust into joy, and arising from joy the song of praise which is the psalm itself. And yet the psalmist is well aware of the struggle with evil, with ‘wicked doers: which speak friendly to their neighbours, but imagine mischief in their hearts.'(verse 3) The trust and joy towards which the psalm moves are all the stronger and more persuasive because they are not naive, because they engage with, rather than evading the problems of the world.

My poem in response to this psalm enters into the same paradox, how to keep tuning into and hearing the music of Heaven, even amidst the cacophony of hate, how to let go of the ego and receive again, how to keep turning, again and again to Christ as he calls us.

As usual you can hear 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.

XXVIII Ad te, Domine

 

To dare each moment’s death, that I might live

Means both repentence and a plenitude

Of grace. Means letting go to let him give.

 

So Christ I beg for that beatitude

The grace to simply let go and receive

From your unsparing hand the amplitude

 

Of your beneficence, to have a heart

That dances to the measure of your music

Even here where evil seeks to part

 

Us from each promised good, and where the sick

And sickening cacophony of hate

Might deafen us or wound us to the quick

 

And break us down. May it not be too late

To turn to you again and start to live

Call us oh Christ, and open up the gate.

 

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