Tag Archives: Time

John Keble and The Christian Year

Portrait_of_John_Keble_(cropped)On the 14th of July the Church of England remembers with thanksgiving the life and work of the priest-poet John Keble. Keble who was part of the Oxford Movement, a  revival of depth and sanctity in the church’s ritual life, was ordained in 1815 and in 1827 published, anonymously, a little volume of poetry which gave a poem for every Sunday of the Church Year, called’ The Christian Year. It was quite simply the most popular book of verse in the nineteenth century and went through 95 editions in Keble’s life time! Some of its poems, for example ‘New Every morning is the love’ have become well known hymns. Whilst I haven’t written an individual sonnet for Keble, my entire volume ‘Sounding the Seasons; seventy sonnets for the Christian Year’, was, as the title suggests, partly inspired by Keble’s example. So here, on his day, is the opening poem of that book which  meditates on what we hope to achieve by keeping the seasons, keeping holy and memorial days. Of course the truths on which we meditate over the course of the liturgical year, from the mystery of Christmas to the all-transforming drama of Good Friday and Easter, are true all the time! But we do not remember or think of them all the time, for time itself, ‘the subtle thief’, can so easily take even the memory of truth from us. So it was a deep wisdom that led the early church to turn ‘Time the thief’ into ‘Time the messenger’, to make the very medium that might have taken the truth away from us become the medium that restores it, as Time brings round and renews each Holy Day.



Sounding The Seasons

Tramelled in time, we live with hints and guesses
Turning the wheel of each returning year,
But in between our failures and successes
We sometimes glimpse the Love that casts out fear,
Sometimes the heart remembers its own reasons
And breathes a Sanctus as we tell our story,
Tracing the tracks of grace, sounding the seasons
That lead at last through time to timeless glory.

From the first yearnings for a Saviours birth
To the full joy of knowing sins forgiven
We gather as His church on Gods’s good earth
To share an echo of the choirs of heaven
I share these hints, returning what was lent,
Turning to praise each ‘moment’s monument’.

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Filed under literature, Meditation

Let not your hearts be troubled: a new sonnet

tumblr_mgadfnKBYV1qk4nc3o1_500Here is a new sonnet from my work in progress ‘Parable and Paradox’, a sonnet sequence on the sayings of Jesus, to be published next year.  This sonnet is a reflection on John 14:1-3.

 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

This saying was not uttered on some sunny morning when all is going well, but on the night Jesus was betrayed, the night before he died, and in that poignant scene he shared their pain, and shares with all us the sheer tragedy of our mortality. But even as he prepared them for the sorrow of parting  he also instilled in them the hope of resurrection, the hope of Heaven and homecoming which they could not yet see.

This passage is very often chosen, and rightly so, as a reading at funerals, because it expresses both empathy and hope, and when I came to compose this sonnet I was gathering together the thoughts and prayers of the many funerals I have taken and hoping to write something that might be helpful, in opening these verses for people who choose to have them read at a funeral.

I have also developed these ideas a little in a sermon I preached this last Sunday at Girton which you can listen to here

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

Let not your hearts be troubled


John 14:1-3


Always there comes this parting of the ways

The best is wrested from us, borne away,

No one is with us always, nothing stays,

Night swallows even the most perfect day.

Time makes a tragedy of human love,

We cleave forever to the one we choose

Only to find ‘forever’ in the grave.

We have just time enough to love and lose.


You know too well this trouble in our hearts

Your heart is troubled for us, feels it too,

You share with us in time that shears and parts

To draw us out of time and into you.

I go that you might come to where I am

Your word comes home to us and brings us home.


Filed under christianity, literature

Hidden Joys; A Sonnet for the Visitation

Today is the feast of the Visitation, which normally falls on the 31st of May, but was transferred to today because yesterday was Trinity Sunday. The Visitation celebrates the lovely moment in Luke’s Gospel (1:41-56) when Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also, against all expectations, bearing a child, the child who would be John the Baptist. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon them, that the babe in Elizabeth’s womb ‘leaped for joy’ when he heard Mary’s voice, and it is even as the older woman blesses the younger, that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat, the most beautiful and revolutionary hymn in the world. There is much for the modern world to ponder in this tale of God’s blessing and prophecy on and from the margins, and i have tried to tease a little of it out in this sonnet. I am grateful again to Margot Krebs Neale for her inspiring image, and , as always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

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

The Visitation

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys

Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place

From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise

And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things

Unnoticed and unknown to men of power

But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings

And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,

Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’

They sing today for all the great unsung

Women who turned eternity to time

Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth

Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.


Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

Dante and the companioned journey 5: Love-in-Idlness

Dante meets Belaqua from a Bodleian Maanuscript

Dante meets Belaqua from a Bodleian Manuscript

This week is the Dante Week for readers of my book  The Word in the Wilderness, my compilation of a poem a day for Lent.  In that book I give three poems from my sequence of nine written in response to the Commedia but I thought I might repost all nine on this blog for those who were interested in following up the sequence.

Yesterday, with De Magistro we began the ascent of Mount Purgatory. As he begins his ascent of the Holy Mountain, Dante runs into, indeed nearly trips over, an old friend called Belaqua, a Florentine lute-maker and musician. Dante is delighted to see him there as one of the redeemed, since in Florence he seemed, as many musicians seem to their friends now, to spend alot of his time just ‘hanging out’ with other musicians and not getting on with anything in particular. Then Dante is disturbed to notice that that is exactly what Belaqua still seems to be doing on the Holy Mountain, just lounging around, until Belaqua explains that this is actually his penance! He is obliged to hang around waiting for the exact amount of time he wasted on earth, before he can begin his true his ascent. What was previously just ‘time wasting’ is now being converted by grace into ‘otium sacrum’ that holy leisure, that pause and patience, that long wait in which at last we let God be God. It’s no wonder that Samuel Becket, who was to invest so much imagination into what it means to wait, was very drawn to this passage and that the hero of his semi-autobiographical short stories is called Belaqua. I wrote this poem over thirty years ago, influenced as much by Becket as by Dante, towards the end of an apparently fruitless period of lostness and indolence. Placing it now in this new sequence is itself a parable of what I understand redemption to be.

This poem is  from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that copies of The Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title, and I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the lovely interpretative image which follows the poem

Love In Idleness

When I am bogged in indolence again

It’s purgatory for me, as for Belaqua,

Hanging around instead of getting on


With his salvation.  I can’t lift a finger.

The snow is falling heavily outside.

The earth gets lighter as the sky gets darker.


I shiver where I’m sitting (window wide

for snow-flakes to drop in and fade away)

And hide myself in something else’s hide.


Coat panther-black and shabby hat wolf-grey,

As my numb fingers wrap about my pen,

all I need is fire and something to say.


Belaqua’s lute speaks with the tongues of men,

The tongue-tied mind is loosened into praise

I slip the disc back in its sleeve again.


One side is columns stiff with turgid prose

About the quattrocento.  On the other

A sound-box holds the craftsman’s fretted rose


With Florence in the background.  What a cover

For the God who spoke through someone else’s fingers

When ours were still entwined with one another.


ages ago we heard the music linger

before this light had lost its  radiance

And cast on love the shadow of our Hunger;


We spoke of free-will and of innocence

And trod the pavements of the fourth cornice

Where Love is to be purged of indolence.


I write these verses pending my release

I write these verses pending my release.

I write these verses pending my release.


Filed under imagination, Poems

I Am With You Always

JesusTeaching2I am working on a new sequence of sonnets, called Parable and Paradox, responding to the sayings of Jesus, and I have come to the end of Matthew’s Gospel and the last words of Jesus to his disciples as he sends them out to the four corners of the earth to make disciples of every nation

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matt 28:20)

It seemed to me that these final words actually linked back to and fulfilled the promise that was given in the Naming of Jesus, that he should be called ‘Emmanuel’, God with us, and that was the starting point of this sonnet.

As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. Parable and Paradox will be published by Canterbury Press in 2016.

I will be with you


Your final words fulfill your ancient name,

A promise hidden in Emmanuel,

A promise that can never fade or fail:

I will be with you till the end of time;

I will be with you when you scale the height

And with you when you fall to earth again,

With you when you flourish in the light,

And with you through the shadow and the pain.

Our God with us, you leave and yet remain

Risen and hidden with us everywhere;

Hidden and flowing in the wine we share,

Broken and hidden in the growing grain.

Be with us till we know we are forgiven

Be with us here till we’re with you in heaven.


Filed under christianity, Poems

O Emmanuel: A Seventh Advent Sonnet, and a Hidden Message

So we come, on the 23rd of December, to the last of the Seven Great O Antiphons, which was sung on either side of the Magnificat, O Emmanuel, O God with us. This is the antiphon from which our lovely Advent hymn takes its name. It was also this final antiphon which revealed the secret message embedded subtly into the whole antiphon sequence. In each of these antiphons we have been calling on Him to come to us, to come as Light as Key, as King, as God-with-us. Now, standing on the brink of Christmas Eve, looking back at the illuminated capital letters for each of the seven titles of Christ we would see an answer to our pleas : ERO CRAS the latin words meaning ‘Tomorrow I will come!”

O Emmanuel

O Rex

O Oriens

O Clavis

O Radix

O Adonai

O Sapientia

I have also tried in my final sonnet to look back across the other titles of Christ, but also to look forward, beyond Christmas, to the new birth for humanity and for the whole cosmos, which is promised in the birth of God in our midst.

As always you can listen to the antiphon and sonnet if you wish by pressing the play button or clicking on the poem’s title

These Antiphons and some of their accompanying sonnets have inspired a great piece by Steve Bell, the song O Emmanuel on his new CD Keening for the Dawn  (you can hear the song O Emmanuel from this page do give it a listen if you can. You can also hear it on soundcoud Here


I have gathered these and other sonnets into a new book called Sounding the Seasons; Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year published by Canterbury Press. It is also available on Amazon or by order from your local bookshop.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus nosterO Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God
O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.


Filed under christianity, Meditation, Poems

Launde Abbey on Saint Lucy’s Day

Launde Abbey on St. Lucy's day

Launde Abbey on St. Lucy’s day

I am leading an Advent retreat here at Launde Abbey, a beautiful place hidden away in the soft folds of Leicestershire. This 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.

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.

And fringed with glory by the light behind

And fringed with glory by the light behind


Filed under imagination, literature