Tag Archives: spirituality

Apostle! -a sonnet for St. Paul

Conversion of Saint Paul Artist Unknown Niedersaechsisches Landesmuseum, Hannover, Germany Conversion of Saint Paul Artist Unknown Niedersaechsisches Landesmuseum, Hannover, Germany

The 25th of January is the day the Church keeps the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. However often told or re-told, it is still an astonishing story. That Saul, the implacable enemy of Christianity, who came against the faith ‘breathing threats and slaughter’, should be chosen by God to be Christianity’s greatest proponant and apostle is just the first of a series of dazzling and life-changing paradoxes that flow from Paul’s writing. At the heart of these is the revelation of God’s sheer grace; finding the lost, loving the violent into light, and working everything through the very weakness of those who love him. Here’s a sonnet celebrating just a little of what I glimpse in the great Apostle.

This and my other sonets for the Christian year are published together by Canterbury Press as Sounding the Seasons; seventy sonnets for the Christian Year.’ You can get this book in the UK by ordering it from your local bookshop, or via Amazon.

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

Apostle

An enemy whom God has made a friend,

A righteous man discounting righteousness,

Last to believe and first for God to send,

He found the fountain in the wilderness.

Thrown to the ground and raised at the same moment,

A prisoner who set his captors free,

A naked man with love his only garment,

A blinded man who helped the world to see,

A Jew who had been perfect in the law,

Blesses the flesh of every other race

And helps them see what the apostles saw;

The glory of the lord in Jesus’ face.

Strong in his weakness, joyful in his pains,

And bound by love, he freed us from our chains.

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O Sapientia an Advent Antiphon

Image by Linda richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 17th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is my own sonnet O Sapientia, the first in a sequence of seven sonnets on the seven ‘great O’ antiphons which I shall be reading to you each day between now and the 23rd of December. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, was created by Linda Richardson for her book of responses to Waiting on the Word.

Linda writes:

If you have never heard Malcolm talking about the O antiphons you are missing a treat. You can hear a recording of him speaking at St Paul’s Cathedral here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w8ey2q28ZY&t=74s.

My response to the sonnet, ‘O Sapientia’, is a great ‘O’ of my own. The back ground of the painting is a photo transfer of a sheet of plainsong that the monks will sing every year at this time in Advent. I gave that a wash of gesso, and using a Chinese brush made a very energetic sweep in black ink and added some red too. Around the outside and inside I wrote out the words in Latin and in English, which are quite beautiful.

O Wisdom coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things. Come and teach us the way of Prudence (Wisdom). The words of this antiphon have a powerfully uplifting effect on me.

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

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key  O Light! come to us! This is the first of them

Also check out the wonderful resources on the Advent Antiphons and aother mediaeval Wisdom on Julia Holloway’s beautiful website  The Great O Antiphons

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the
Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.


O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

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Launde Abbey on Saint Lucy’s Day

Image by Linda Richardson

Image by Linda Richardson

December 13th is St. Lucy’s day and the poem I have chosen in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is ‘Launde Abbey on St. Lucy’s Day’. I wrote this poem whilst leading an Advent retreat at Launde Abbey, a beautiful place hidden away in the soft folds of Leicestershire. This particular morning, on Saint Lucy’s day, whose brief brightness is dedicated to the martyr saint who found the true dayspring and whose name means light, I walked in the abbey grounds. As I watched the bright low winter sun rise dazzling through the bare bleak leafless trees and light at last the Abbey’s sunken rose garden this sonnet came to me.You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, which anticipates the ‘great ‘O’ Advent antiphons, was created by Linda Richardson in her book of artwork responses to Waiting on the Word.

Linda Writes:

I made this great ‘O’ on St Lucy’s, as a foretaste of the ‘O Antiphons’ that will begin on the 17th. Here in the dark days of winter Malcolm describes a frozen pond, winter skies and ‘frosty light that yet recalls the glory of the summer…’ The ground of the painting is a chilling white and blue, the ‘O’ is frosted with streaks of white but there is too, beneath the layers of paint and gleaming through, a recollection of summer light, even though ‘winter night will soon surround us here…’.

Nothing much is happening in this painting just as it seems that nothing much happens in the dead of winter or in the dark night of the soul. It is at such times that we might discover with a great ‘Oh’,that it is Jesus who is praying within us, Jesus who understands, and that the song of His love for the Father can always be heard within us, even in the dark depths of winter.

 

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

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button

Launde Abbey on St. Lucy’s day

St. Lucy’s day is brief and bright with frost,

In round cupped dew ponds shallow waters freeze,

Delicate fronds and rushes are held fast,

The low sun brings a contrast to the trees

Whose naked branches, dark against the skies

And fringed with glory by the light behind,

In patterns too severe for tired eyes,

Burn their bright beauty on the weary mind.

Saint Lucy’s sun still bathes these abbey walls

And in her garden rose stalks stark and bare

Shine in a frosty light that yet recalls

The glory of the summer roses there.

Though winter night will soon surround us here,

Another Advent comes, Dayspring is near.

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Hildegard of Bingen: A Sonnet

Tending the tree of Life by Hildegard of Bingen

Tending the tree of Life by Hildegard of Bingen

The 17th of September is the feast day of Abbess Hildegard of Bingen, a remarkable and prophetic woman, who described herself as ‘a feather on the breath of God’, and whose many works in theology, music, visual art, poetry and drama are still inspiring people today. Indeed she is coming more and more into her own, as one of her key ideas ‘Viriditas’, or the greening and life-renewing work of the Holy Spirit, seems especially apposite for our time. See this page on her by a contemporary Benedictine.

The photo below is by Margot Krebs Neale

I wrote this sonnet at Launde Abbey in Leicestershire. It is published in my second volume of poetry The Singing Bowl, Canterbury Press,  available on Amazon in both the US and the UK

As always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the play button or the title.

Hildegard of Bingen

A feather on the breath of God at play,

You saw the play of God in all creation.

You drew eternal light into each day,

And every living breath was inspiration.

You made a play with every virtue playing,

Made music for each sister-soul to sing,

Listened for what each herb and stone was saying,

And heard the Word of God in everything.

 

Mother from mother earth and Magistra, 

Your song revealed God’s hidden gift to us;

The verdant fire, his holy harbinger

The greening glory of viriditas.

‘Cherish this earth that keeps us all alive’

Either we hear you, or we don’t survive.

 

Photo by Margot Krebs Neale

Photo by Margot Krebs Neale

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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.


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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A Sonnet on the Transfiguration

Transfiguration by Rebecca Merry

I return to my series of sonnets ‘Sounding the Seasons’ of the Church’s year, to share a sonnet about the Transfiguration, when we remember how the disciples, even before they went to Jerusalem to face his trials with him, had a glimpse of Christ in his true glory. The Transfiguration is usually celebrated on August 6th, but is also sometimes remembered on this Sunday before Lent, which is a good time for it too, as I believe the glimpse of glory in Christ they saw on the mount of the Transfiguration was given in order to sustain the disciples through darkness of Good Friday. Indeed it is for a disciple, looking back at the transfiguration from Good Friday, that I have voiced the poem.

The painting above is artist Rebecca Merry‘s response to the poem. Rebecca is well known for her paintings in egg tempora and in responding to this ‘iconic’ moment in the life of Christ she has drawn on her training in icon painting. She writes:

I wanted to stay with the idea of the circle for an important event in the life of Christ, and the theme of cycle and circle that is a theme of your book – the changing of the seasons, the unchanging nature of God. Underneath is the circle and the cross, a symbol also in Egyptian hieroglyphs of the city but of course the cross (or crucifix) is the meeting point of two worlds, heaven and earth, and the division of the upper circle as light and the lower as dark also symbolises this. The red is a recurrent themes of all the illustrations but here it implies Christ’s blood (and sacrifice) but also the life blood and life giver that God/Christ is to us all, giving light to the world.

As always please feel free to copy or use the poem in prayer or liturgy; you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button or clicking on its 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 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.

Transfiguration

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

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Thank God for ‘Doubting’ Thomas!

July the 3rd is the Feast of St. Thomas the apostle. Sometimes known as ‘doubting’ Thomas, but maybe honest Thomas, courageous Thomas, even Tenacious Thomas would be nearer the mark!
I thank God for St. Thomas, the one disciple who had the courage to say what everyone else was thinking but didnt dare say, the courage to ask the awkward questions that drew from Jesus some of the most beautiful and profoundly comforting of all his sayings. “We dont know where you’re going, how can we know the way”? asked Thomas, and because he had the courage to confess his ignorance, we were given that beautiful saying “I am the way the Truth and the Life” Here is the poem I have written for St. Thomas, and also a sermon called ‘Touching the Wounds’ which I preached  at St. Edwards.

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.

I am greateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the thought-provoking image above, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button below or on the title of the poem and you can hear the sermon on my podcast site by clicking here: Touching The Wounds

St. Thomas the Apostle

 

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”

Courageous master of the awkward question,

You spoke the words the others dared not say

And cut through their evasion and abstraction.

Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,

You put your finger on the nub of things

We cannot love some disembodied wraith,

But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.

Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,

Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.

Because He loved your awkward counter-point

The Word has heard and granted you your wish.

Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine

The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.

 

oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
the wounded God whose wounds are healing mine

 

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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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A Sonnet for Trinity Sunday

20110619-000808.jpg

Returning for a moment to my cycle of sonnets for the Church Year, here is one for Trinity Sunday which I am posting a couple of days early, in case people would like to make use of it on Sunday.

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

The Rublev Icon, above, shows the Three in One inviting us to share in that communion. If, as I believe, we are made in the image of God, as beings in communion with one another in the name of that Holy and Undivided Trnity whose being is communion, then we will find reflections and traces of the Trinitarian mystery in all our loving and making.

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

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

This sonnet is drawn from my collection Sounding the Seasons, published by Canterbury Press here in England. The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA . It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great..

Trinity Sunday

In the Beginning, not in time or space,

But in the quick before both space and time,

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

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

In music, in the whole creation story,

In His own image, His imagination,

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.

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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.

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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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