Tag Archives: Wilderness

Seven Whole Days: The Fifth Day; Creatures of the Sky and Sea

With open wings a seagull skims the spray

It is a lovely thing that in the Genesis story a whole day is given over to the wild things of the sea and sky, the flying and diving creations that inhabit elements other than ours, but who are also the work of God’s hand and the delight of His mind. They exist of course  for God’s glory and for their own good purposes but perhaps they are also His words to us and provide us with living images of our own thoughts and prayers.

This fifth of my seven roundels for the primal week of Genesis can be heard by clicking the ‘play’ button or the roman Numeral and is preceded by the verses in Genesis Chapter One that inspired it.

The Canadian artist Faye Hall has made a beautiful sequence of 63 paintings responding to my Seven Whole Days Sequence and we have published it as a book, which you can purchase from her web site here  or, in the uk from Amazon Here.  Faye has kindly allowed ne to include with each poem one or two of the paintings from the book, to give you a taste of it, and you can see these paintings for yourself at the MHC Gallery in Winnipeg from 16th March to 5th of May. I will be at the gallery on 15th April for a special book signing and launch event, full details here

These poems were originally published in ‘Parable and Paradox’   Canterbury Press in the summer of 2016

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.


V

 

With open wings a seagull skims the spray,

Sounding the depth below, a great whale sings,

Your Spirit moves amongst them as they play

With open wings.

 

Now open me to all your Spirit brings,

Move in me too as I begin to pray,

That love may ripple out in shining rings.

 

Speak to my soul through all you made this day,

Through all that swims and flies and swoops and swings,

And let your Spirit lift the words I say

With open wings.

Sounding the depths below, a great whale sings

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Parable and Paradox: Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

For the many churches that use the Common Lectionary, tomorrow’s Bible readings will include Genesis 32:22-31, the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. So I thought I would re-post my poem about that encounter, the sonnet which goes with the painting on the cover of Parable and Paradox.

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel is one in a suite of five sonnets on the theme of Wilderness which were originally composed in response to a set of paintings by Adan Boulter and exhibited in Lent 2015 at St. Margaret’s Westminster . I refer to that in the lead-up to my reading of this sonnet.

My poem is voiced for Jacob in his life-changing encounter, that long wrestle in the dark that will change his name to Israel and change his future and ours for ever. This meeting with an angel is the harbinger of his dramatic encounter and reconciliation with his wronged brother Esau, the brother-victim he had deceived but in whose face he now recognises the face of God. Though I have voiced this poem for Jacob, it is written in full consciousness that his story is also ours, that we too, in our brokenness and alienation must also wrestle with, and be changed by the Love that wounds and heals.

Parable and Paradox is available to order on Amazon here and in the USA

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

2 Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

 

I dare not face my brother in the morning,

I dare not look upon the things I’ve done,

Dare not ignore a nightmare’s dreadful warning,

Dare not endure the rising of the sun.

My family, my goods, are sent before me,

I cannot sleep on this strange river shore,

I have betrayed the son of one who bore me,

And my own soul rejects me to the core.

 

But in the desert darkness one has found me,

Embracing me, He will not let me go,

Nor will I let Him go, whose arms surround me,

Until he tells me all I need to know,

And blesses me where daybreak stakes it’s claim,

With love that wounds and heals; and with His name.

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Parable and Paradox: The cover picture and poem!

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

Tomorrow, June 14th, is the launch day for my new collection of poetry Parable and Paradox, and I am happy to say that it is already available on Amazon here and in the USA.

In anticipation of tomorrow I am reposting this sonnet which goes with the painting on the cover of the new book. Jacob Wrestles with the Angel is one in a suite of five sonnets on the theme of Wilderness which were originally composed in response to a set of paintings by Adan Boulter and exhibited in Lent 2015 at St. Margaret’s Westminster . I refer to that in the lead-up to my reading of this sonnet. I am happy to say that this painting, together we the other ones from that Wilderness exhibition, will all be on display at the launch, which will be at Girton College Fellow’s Drawing Room from 5:15pm tomorrow, June 14th,

My poem is voiced for Jacob in his life-changing encounter, that long wrestle in the dark that will change his name to Israel and change his future and ours for ever. This meeting with an angel is the harbinger of his dramatic encounter and reconciliation with his wronged brother Esau, the brother-victim he had deceived but in whose face he now recognises the face of God. Though I have voiced this poem for Jacob, it is written in full consciousness that his story is also ours, that we too, in our brokenness and alienation must also wrestle with, and be changed by the Love that wounds and heals.

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

2 Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

 

I dare not face my brother in the morning,

I dare not look upon the things I’ve done,

Dare not ignore a nightmare’s dreadful warning,

Dare not endure the rising of the sun.

My family, my goods, are sent before me,

I cannot sleep on this strange river shore,

I have betrayed the son of one who bore me,

And my own soul rejects me to the core.

 

But in the desert darkness one has found me,

Embracing me, He will not let me go,

Nor will I let Him go, whose arms surround me,

Until he tells me all I need to know,

And blesses me where daybreak stakes its claim,

With love that wounds and heals; and with His name.

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Parable and Paradox: Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

In the run-up to the launch this June my new collection of poetry Parable and Paradox, I am posting some of the poems in it in advance. Today’s poem is the sonnet which goes with the painting on the cover of the new book. Jacob Wrestles with the Angel is one in a suite of five sonnets on the theme of Wilderness which were originally composed in response to a set of paintings by Adan Boulter and exhibited in Lent 2015 at St. Margaret’s Westminster . I refer to that in the lead-up to my reading of this sonnet.

My poem is voiced for Jacob in his life-changing encounter, that long wrestle in the dark that will change his name to Israel and change his future and ours for ever. This meeting with an angel is the harbinger of his dramatic encounter and reconciliation with his wronged brother Esau, the brother-victim he had deceived but in whose face he now recognises the face of God. Though I have voiced this poem for Jacob, it is written in full consciousness that his story is also ours, that we too, in our brokenness and alienation must also wrestle with, and be changed by the Love that wounds and heals.

Parable and Paradox is available to order on Amazon here and in the USA and will be available from May 30th

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

2 Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

 

I dare not face my brother in the morning,

I dare not look upon the things I’ve done,

Dare not ignore a nightmare’s dreadful warning,

Dare not endure the rising of the sun.

My family, my goods, are sent before me,

I cannot sleep on this strange river shore,

I have betrayed the son of one who bore me,

And my own soul rejects me to the core.

 

But in the desert darkness one has found me,

Embracing me, He will not let me go,

Nor will I let Him go, whose arms surround me,

Until he tells me all I need to know,

And blesses me where daybreak stakes it’s claim,

With love that wounds and heals; and with His name.

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Seven Whole Days: The Fifth Day; Creatures of the Sky and Sea

a seagull skims the spray

a seagull skims the spray

It is a lovely thing that in the Genesis story a whole day is given over to the wild things of the sea and sky, the flying and diving creations that inhabit elements other than ours, but who are also the work of God’s hand and the delight of His mind. They exist of course  for God’s glory and for their own good purposes but perhaps they are also His words to us and provide us with living images of our own thoughts and prayers.

This fifth of my seven roundels for the primal week of Genesis can be heard by clicking the ‘play’ button or the roman Numeral and is preceded by the verses in Genesis Chapter One that inspired it. These poems will be gathered together with others in ‘Parable and Paradox’ my next book of poetry, to be published by Canterbury Press in the summer of 2016.

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.


V

 

With open wings a seagull skims the spray,

Sounding the depth below, a great whale sings,

Your Spirit moves amongst them as they play

With open wings.

 

Now open me to all your Spirit brings,

Move in me too as I begin to pray,

That love may ripple out in shining rings.

 

Speak to my soul through all you made this day,

Through all that swims and flies and swoops and swings,

And let your Spirit lift the words I say

With open wings.

 

sounding the depth below a great whale sings

sounding the depth below a great whale sings

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A Lament For Lost Words

words omitted from the Oxford Junior Dictionary

words omitted from the Oxford Junior Dictionary

I was very distressed to read that The Oxford Junior Dictionary had been ‘culling’ words concerning nature’, words like catkin, acorn, cowslip, otter meadow, in order to make room for words like broadband, chatroom, and celebrity. Reading the list of deletions in alphabetical order, as they are presented in the image above, which I first saw taken from Simon Kings wildlife page, I felt there was a poem waiting to be uttered just in the sheer listing, and lost sounds, in these lovely names, so I set them, as they were, and in their order, in this lament.

I have since discovered the source of the list in the image above in an excellent article by Robert McFarlane, who is doing so much to restore the richness and texture of our language and to celebrate our wild places.

As always you can hear it by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button

To graceful names and lovely woods farewell
To acorn, adder, ash, to beech and bluebell,
Farewell old friends I name you in my sonnet
Buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet
Farewell, your fields are brick, our books are barren
No dandelion or fern, hazel or heron
We’ll go no more alone, no more together
The mountain thyme is gone and gone the heather
The clinging ivy‘s gone and soon to go
The kingfisher‘s blue bolt, the mistletoe
Nectar, newt, and otter, pasture, willow
To their last rites my muse comes footing slow
We’ll hear no more the heaven-scaling lark
We’ll all go down together in the dark.

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First Steps, Brancaster

Here is today’s commentary and poem from my book The Word in the Wilderness, whose readers  may like to click the play button or the title below and hear me read the poem.

First Steps

This is the day to leave the dark behind you
Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,
Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,
And find the courage for the forward path.
You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,
The day has come and you are free to choose,
Now is your time and season.
Companioned still by your familiar crutches,
And leaning on the props you hope to lose,
You step outside and widen your horizon.

After the dimly burning wick of winter
That seemed to dull and darken everything
The April sun shines clear beyond your shelter
And clean as sight itself. The reed-birds sing,
As heaven reaches down to touch the earth
And circle her, revealing everywhere
A lovely, longed-for blue.
Breathe deep and be renewed by every breath,
Kinned to the keen east wind and cleansing air,
As though the blue itself were blowing through you.

You keep the coastal path where edge meets edge,
The sea and salt marsh touching in North Norfolk,
Reed cutters cuttings, patterned in the sedge,
Open and ease the way that you will walk,
Unbroken reeds still wave their feathered fronds
Through which you glimpse the long line of the sea
And hear its healing voice.
Tentative steps begin to break your bonds,
You push on through the pain that sets you free,
Towards the day when broken bones rejoice

And here is my commentary from the Word in the Wilderness:

It’s good that this call to journey and pilgrimage in Lent usually comes in spring and the turn of the year. For many of us winter is dark and difficult. It was particularly so for me in the winter of last year as I coped with a broken leg. This poem, written to celebrate my first walk outdoors after the accident, alludes to Psalm 51, the great Lenten penitential psalm with its prayer to ‘make me to hear of joy and gladness that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice’.

The poem is set on the North Norfolk Coastal Path near the village of Brancaster and I hope it gives some sense of that wide, wild, bracing countryside. It is customary to speak of ‘the pathetic fallacy’; the habit whereby we project our inner feelings, our distinctively human ‘pathos’, onto the surrounding environment, so that the outward becomes expressive of the inward. But I don’t think this is quite as fallacious as some people assume. The very fact that we find a constant and seemingly natural correspondence between the outer and inner may itself be a clue to the nature of the universe and our role in it. It may not be simply that we project, but that we, ourselves a part of nature are finely attuned to and can give a conscious ‘inward’ expression to its outer meanings. Indeed Coleridge went so far as to suggest that we are able to read the ‘eternal language’ which is already patterned into the appearances of nature. In his beautiful conversational poem frost at midnight he imagines how his son in opening himself fully to the experience and meaning of landscape will

 

see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

‘Frost at Midnight’

 

This is not the pantheism of which Coleridge is sometimes falsely accused. On the contrary God transcends nature, which is not God himself, but is his language. Certainly one sometimes has the experience of an outer scene entering deeply into ones soul as an expression both of consciousness and healing. This was my experience walking in Norfolk on the day commemorated in this poem. The lines that came first:

 

Kinned to the keen east wind and cleansing air,
As though the blue itself were blowing through you.

 

came spontaneously as an expression of how that deep blue, keen air and wide horizon, after months of confinement, seemed somehow to change and expand my inward self. The walk itself was brief and painful, pushing myself with each step and leaning still on my crutches, but somehow also transformative. I include the poem here because the experience it seems to me corresponds with a real experience on most people’s spiritual journey, a moment when vision is renewed, new possibilities become apparent even though we are still hobbled by our brokenness. That renewal is what gives us the courage to ‘push on through the pain’ in a strange and paradoxical combination of effort, grace and freedom.

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 Word in the Wilderness are readily available from Steve Bell Here

 

20130403-152420.jpg

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Word In the Wilderness: 3rd Temptation

Temptation

Temptation

Here is my reflection and poem on Christ’s third temptation from my new book The Word in the Wilderness:

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time’ (Luke 4.9−3).

If the first two temptations in the wilderness were in some sense ‘obvious’; the temptation to mere physical satisfaction of appetite, and the temptation to worldly success and power, then the third temptation is subtle and dark, all the darker for pretending to a kind of light, or enlightenment. The third temptation takes place on the ‘pinnacle of the Temple’ on the height of religious experience and achievement. What could be wrong with that? But the best things, turned bad, are the worst things of all. A ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ life can be riddled with pride and a sense of distinction, judging or looking down on others, despising God’s good creation! Such a twisted religion does more damage in the world then any amount simple indulgence or gratification by sensual people. One of G. K. Chesterton’s wonderful Father Brown stories, ‘The Hammer of God’, explores this theme with his usual combination of acuity and humour. In the story a curate who has constantly taken to ‘praying, not on the common church floor with his fellow men, but on the dizzying heights of its spires’ is tempted to deal justice to his sinful brother by flinging a hammer down on him from the heights. It is Father Brown who sees and understands the temptation and brings the curate down from the heights to a proper place of repentance. Here’s a fragment of their dialogue before they descend:

 

‘I think there is something rather dangerous about standing on these high places even to pray,’ said Father Brown. ‘Heights were made to be looked at, not to be looked from.’

‘Do you mean that one may fall over?’ asked Wilfred.

‘I mean that one’s soul may fall if one’s body doesn’t,’ said the other priest …

After a moment he resumed, looking tranquilly out over the plain with his pale grey eyes. ‘I knew a man,’ he said, ‘who began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire. And once in one of those dizzy places, where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that, though he was a good man, he committed a great crime.’

Wilfred’s face was turned away, but his bony hands turned blue and white as they tightened on the parapet of stone.

‘He thought it was given to him to judge the world and strike down the sinner. He would never have had such a thought if he had been kneeling with other men upon a floor.’

‘I mean that one’s soul may fall if one’s body doesn’t,’ said the other priest.

 

I was remembering something of this story when I wrote my sonnet on the third temptation, but thanks be to God that in resisting this temptation to spiritual loftiness and display, Jesus shows his solidarity once and for all with all of us, trusting himself to our flesh and blood so that we can trust our flesh and blood to him. He does not look down on us but looks up with the humble eyes of the child of Bethlehem.

WhenThe image above is from a sketch book of the painter  Adam Boulter who sent me this haunting sketch of two figures looking down at Petra ‘from the high place of sacrifice’ (as he added in a marginal note) who sent me this sketch when we were working together on the In the Wilderness Exhibition for Westminster Abbey.

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 Word in the Wilderness are readily available from Steve Bell Here

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and you can visit the exhibition with the finished paintings and poems at St. Margaret’s Westminster throughout Lent

Temptation in the wilderness

 

‘Temples and Spires are good for looking down from;

You stand above the world on holy heights,

Here on the pinnacle, above the maelstrom,

Among the few, the true, unearthly lights.

Here you can breathe the thin air of perfection

And feel your kinship with the lonely star,

Above the shadow and the pale reflection,

Here you can know for certain who you are.

The world is stalled below, but you could move it

If they could know you as you are up here,

Of course they’ll doubt, but here’s your chance to prove it

Angels will bear you up, so have no fear….’

‘I was not sent to look down from above

It’s fear that sets these tests and proofs, not Love.’

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From The Word in the Wilderness: The First Temptation

And He was led by the sprit into the Wilderness

Here is a sample from my book the Word in the Wilderness, This is Today’s poem and reflection on the first of Christ’s Temptations. It will also allow those who are following it in the book to hear me read the poem.

There are three days between Ash Wednesday and the first Sunday in Lent, the first day of the first week of our six-week pilgrimage. Since Christ’s own primal Lent, his sojourn as the Word in the Wilderness, is prefaced by his three temptations, by his confrontation with just those corruptions of the good that confront us every day, it seems good to spend these three days reflecting on these three temptations, which will themselves form the readings and subject for reflection in many churches this coming Sunday. I have chosen to follow the order of the three temptations as they are set out in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 4.1−12). His order seems to me to make most spiritual and psychological sense. We start with the most straightforward, (and often most insistent!) of temptations, those generated by our bodily appetites and needs: the temptations to serve first our own creature comforts, to tend to our obsessions and addictions before we have even considered the needs of others. But then we move on to the deeper temptations to serve and feed, not just the body, but its driving ego, with its lust for power, the temptation to dominate in the kingdoms of this world. We may have overcome the first temptation only because we are captivated and driven by the second. We diet, and discipline our flesh in gyms and health-clubs, we submit our appetites to the dictates of personal trainers and three-month fitness plans, but only because we hope thereby to sharpen our image so as to shine and succeed in the world!

And then comes the last, the subtlest and worst temptation of all: the temptation to spiritual pride. We may rise above worldly ambition only to congratulate ourselves on how spiritual we have become, how superior to our fat-cat neighbours! The very disciplines and virtues designed to bring us closer to our saviour, to make us more available as ambassadors of his love become instead the proud possessions that separate us from the one whose strength is made perfect in weakness.

But this is to anticipate, let us begin at the beginning with the temptation to turn stones into bread.

Jesus meets this temptation with the profound reply ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’. A word which certainly needs to be heard by Christians living in affluent Western societies dominated by consumer culture. I believe that Jesus underwent this ordeal on our behalf, to break open the ground of the heart and make real choice possible for us.

In this and the other sonnets on Christ’s temptations I have born in mind two essential, but easily forgotten truths. The first is that because Jesus is both fully human and fully God there is a double aspect to each of these temptations. On the one hand Jesus experiences these temptations exactly as we do, in a fully human way, feeling their full force and yet showing us both that it is possible to overcome them and also, the way to overcome them. As the letter to the Hebrews says: ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are but without sin’ (Hebrews 4.15 NRSV) But at the same time He is God and his action in defeating the Devil in resisting the temptation, casting back the tempter and creating, and holding a space in which right action is possible is done not just privately on his own behalf but is done with and for all of us. In the old Prayer Book litany there is a petition that says ‘By thy Fasting and Temptation, good Lord deliver us’. If Jesus were simply set before me as an example of heroic human achievement I would despair. His very success in resisting temptation would just make me feel worse about my failure. But he is not just my exemplar, he is my saviour, he is the one who takes my place and stands in for me, and in the mystery of redemption he acts for me and makes up, in his resistance to evil what is lacking in mine. I have emphasized this double aspect of the temptations by beginning the first sonnet with a series of paradoxes that turn on the truth that it is God himself who feels and suffers these things for and with us:

 

The Fountain thirsts, the Bread is hungry here,

The Light is dark, the Word without a voice.

 

And I have tried to bring out the way he endures these temptations both with us and for us. We ‘must dare with him to make a choice’, but at the same time ‘he chooses for the ones who cannot choose’.

The second essential truth is that we should not see the temptations in entirely negative terms. The Devil is no substantial being. A shadow himself, all he can do is cast shadows of God’s substantial good. All good things come from God and those things which the Devil pretends to offer, but in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons, are cheap imitations of the very things that God does indeed offer and that Jesus himself receives, enjoys, and crucially, shares. He refuses to turn stones into bread for himself at the Devil’s behest, but later, in the very same wilderness he takes bread, gives thanks, and breaks it, and feeds five thousand with all they want, and twelve baskets full left over! This was the substantial good from God, in light of which, and to gain which, it was necessary to refuse the shadowy substitute

CS. Lewis evokes this truth very well in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Everything that the White witch pretends she can offer to the children is a stolen and corrupted version of something that Aslan fully intends them to have in its true substance. She pretends that she will share the throne of Narnia with Edmund and then leave it to him, and yet the whole story is about how Aslan will truly and substantially crown all four children kings and queens of Narnia. And this holds true in the smaller things too, even down to this matter of personal appetite. If Edmund had turned down the Witch’s Turkish delight he would have come sooner to Aslan’s feast!

As always I am grateful to Margot for her thought-provoking images. you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button.

Stones into Bread

 

The Fountain thirsts, the Bread is hungry here

The Light is dark, the Word without a voice.

When darkness speaks it seems so light and clear.

Now He must dare, with us, to make a choice.

In a distended belly’s cruel curve

He feels the famine of the ones who lose

He starves for those whom we have forced to starve

He chooses now for those who cannot choose.

He is the staff and sustenance of life

He lives for all from one Sustaining Word

His love still breaks and pierces like a knife

The stony ground of hearts that never shared,

God gives through Him what Satan never could;

The broken bread that is our only food.

His love still breaks and pierces like a knife

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A Week to go: getting ready for Lent

WiW coverLent is nearly upon us, and this is just a note to say that if anyone would like to join me in reading a poem a day for Lent there is still time, to order and have delivered The Word in the Wilderness the book in which I have set out a poem for each day of Lent together with some commentary to open out the poem and some reflections for the day. For those who would rather not use Amazon, the excellent Sarum College Book Shop have them in stock and can get them to you in time for Ash Wednesday when the series starts, just click Here. American readers who would like books sent directly from this shop can send an enquiry/place an order by sending an email to bookshop@sarum.ac.uk

Meanwhile, as a little taster, here is a passage from the Introduction to that book setting out why poetry, as a medium, might be especially helpful for us on the Lenten Journey:

 

Lent is a time set aside to re-orient ourselves, to clarify our minds, to slow down, recover from distraction, to focus on the values of God’s Kingdom and on the value he has set on us and on our neighbours. There are a number of distinctive ways in which poetry can help us do that and in particular the poetry I have chosen for this anthology.

Heaney spoke of poetry offering a glimpse and a clarification, here is how an earlier poet Coleridge, put it, when he was writing about what he and Wordsworth were hoping to offer through their poetry, which was

 

awakening the mind’s attention to the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.

(Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, Vol. II, pp. 6−7)

 

That wakening and renewing of vision is partly achieved by a change in the very way we read, which poetry asks of us. Poetry asks to be savoured, it asks us to slow down, it carries echoes, hints at music, summons energies that we will miss if we are simply scanning. In this way poetry brings us back to older ways of reading understanding both the Word and the World, and a way of reading, currently being revived in many churches, called Lectio Divina, a slow savouring of the text a rich meditation on meaning that begins with the senses, with taste and sound. The great practitioners and preservers of this art, as of so many other vital arts, were the monks of Europe. They showed it visually in their illuminated manuscripts, and aurally in this practice of Lectio Divina, the prayerful form of reading aloud. The Benedictine historian Jean Leclercq describes it in this way:

 

To meditate is to attach oneself closely to the sentence being recited and weigh all its words in order to sound the depths of their full meaning. It means assimilating the content of a text by means of a kind of mastication which releases its full flavour. It means, as St Augustine, St Gregory, John of Fecamp and others say in an untranslatable expression, to taste it with the palatum cordis or in ore cordis. All this activity is necessarily a prayer; the lectio divina is a prayerful reading. Thus the Cistercian, Arnoul of Boheriss will give this advice:

When he reads, let him seek for savour, not science. The Holy Scripture is the well of Jacob from which the waters are drawn which will be poured out later in prayer. Thus there will be no need to go to the oratory to begin to pray; but in reading itself, means will be found for prayer and contemplation.

(The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, p. 90)

 

For the English Church, echoes of this ancient art of reading are preserved in the Prayer Book collect on the scriptures with its petition ‘Help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them’ (The Book of Common Prayer Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent).

We should also come to poetry both for that inner nourishment, and, in that beautiful Cistercian image, for waters drawn up from a well, to be poured out fruitfully later in our prayers.

As poetry begins to change the way we read it also starts to change the way we think and see. It becomes possible for us to enter into those moments of vision that are the beacons and turning points of our scripture, among which a moment of transfigured vision in the desert, Moses turning aside to the burning bush, is the archetype of all transfigured vision. In a poem we shall encounter early in this Lenten journey, R. S. Thomas calls us to do just that:

 

Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you

(‘The Bright Field’, Laboratories of the Spirit)

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