Tag Archives: Wilderness

In the Wilderness 7: Christ amongst the refugees

this scant and tented city outside Syria.

this scant and tented city outside Syria.

When Adam Boulter sent me the final sketch for his Wilderness series, titled ‘Contemporary Christian Refugees,’ I began to see the whole series in a new context. These stories of life-changing wilderness journeys which began with the well-known and resonant Biblical Narratives are not over. The Lord is still with his people in an exodus through the desert, Jesus is still with the displaced people ‘on the long road of weariness and want’. We have all been horrified by the events unfolding in Syria and Iraq, and as Christians flee from Mosul and the other places where ‘ISIS’ has persecuted, and painted ‘Nazarene’ on their doors, we are tempted to ask ‘Where is Christ in all this’?

But we must answer,’Christ is where he said he would be! With his people on the road, with the poor and persecuted, even where two or three are gathered together.’

Adam visited the UNHCR refugee camp where he sketched this tent, and there was something about the tent itself that moved me. Not only that it linked with the tent of hospitality pitched by Abraham and Sarah in the first painting and poem of this sequence, but because it set me in mind of how the powerful Greek word that’s used for ‘dwelt’  in John 1:14 14 ‘And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,’ is εσκηνωσεν (eskenosen) which comes from ‘skenoo’, which means ‘to have one’s tent’, or ‘to pitch one’s tent’. As I saw the tented city of these Christian refugees I thought in a new way of how Christ pitches his tent in our humanity, and I try to suggest a little of that in this final poem in the series, into which other details Adam had observed at the scene, like the dark smoke from a devastated city looming over the horizon are also woven.

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. If you are not able to come to the exhibition, Adam has created a page on which you can see images of all seven finished paintings alongside their corresponding sonnets HERE

Christ amongst the refugees

 

That fearful road of weariness and want,

Through unforgiving heat and hate, ends here;

We narrow sand-blown eyes to scan this scant

And tented city outside Syria.

He fled with us when everything was wrecked

As Nazarene was blazoned on our door,

Walked with the damaged and the derelict

To where these tents are ranked and massed, foursquare

Against the desert, with a different blazon;

We trace the letters: UNHCR,

As dark smoke looms behind a cruel horizon.

Christ stands with us and withstands, where we are,

His high commission, as a refugee;

To pitch his tent in our humanity.

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Filed under christianity, Current affairs, paintings, Poems

In the Wilderness 4: Temptation

Temptation

Temptation

When Adam Boulter 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) I realised that, with some small changes, it answered to my sonnet on the third temptation of Christ in the Wilderness. The whole sequence of seven ‘Wilderness’ moments hinges on the two glimpses of Christ in the Wilderness: the first, forced there as an innocent child refugee, sharing the trauma of all the coerced victims of conflict, and this second as a mature man choosing to face and feel, to suffer for us, and to overcome our temptations, and in this case, the most insidious of all temptations, and the root of the most destructive and ghastly of all our conflicts, the temptation to religious pride.

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

 

‘A sacred place is 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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In the Wilderness 3: The Flight into Egypt

The Flight into Egypt

The Flight into Egypt

I found Adam Boulter’s sketch for the flight into Egypt very moving, with Mount Sinai in the back ground summoning the memory of the children of Jacob/Israel wandering through this same wilderness and knowing that somehow the Lord was with them, though under the shadowy symbols of the pillars of cloud and fire. But here the Lord is indeed our companion in this same wilderness. And not in the towering symbols of power, but in the fragile and vulnerable fresh of a refugee child, he takes the road with us. I had already reflected on this a little in my sonnet ‘Refugee’ from Sounding the Seasons, and Adam and I agreed to place that poem in this sequence and with this picture, where it seems to acquire a new resonance.The tragedy of the Syrian Civil War and the rise of Isis has unfolded since I wrote the poem and as you will see the final poem of this new sequence which deals with that catastrophe, and asks where Christ is in all these things, also alludes to and draws on this poem. 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

The Flight into Egypt

 

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,

Or cosy in a crib beside the font,

But he is with a million displaced people

On the long road of weariness and want.

For even as we sing our final carol

His family is up and on that road,

Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,

Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower

Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,

The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,

And death squads spread their curse across the world.

But every Herod dies, and comes alone

To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

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In the Wilderness: 2 Jacob Wrestles With The Angel

DSCF9147Here is the second in my suite of seven sonnets on the theme of Wilderness composed in response to a set of paintings by Adan Boulter which will be exhibited along with the poems at St. Margaret’s Westminster . As before, I am giving you the initial sketch from Adam’s notebook with his pencilled notes (shown above) and then my sonnet in response. The finished paintings, made with both the sketch and the sonnet to hand, can be seen any day in lent at St. Margaret’s between 9am and 4pm.

In the first painting and sonnet Abraham welcomed the angels who were the harbingers of Isaac’s arrival. Now we skip  generation and Isaac’s own son has that 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. I have voiced this poem for Jacob but written it 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 it’s claim,

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

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In the Wilderness: 1 Abraham and Sarah at Mamre

I am publishing here the first of a sequence of seven sonnets which were commissioned to go with a sequence of paintings by the artist Adam Boulter on the theme of Wilderness. They will form part of the exhibition ‘In the Wilderness: Preparing for Public Service which will be installed for the whole of Lent in St. Margaret’s Westminster. The paintings and poems are a series of meditations on key turning points in Biblical and Church wilderness experience. The way Adam and I worked on them was this: First he sent me the scriptural or patristic point of inspiration together with a sketch he had made, in situ, of the wilderness episode, for he is a chaplain in Amman in Jordan and has been able to journey through the desert himself and visit these sites. Then I composed the poem, drawing on both the scripture or church history and the sketch, and sent him the poem. Then he completed the painting having in mind both the initial sketch and the poem. It has been a remarkable and I think fruitful long distance collaboration, and I can hardly wait to see the paintings themselves when he and I meet for the opening night on the 17th of this month.

In the meantime though he has given me permission to share with you  the initial sketch book images I worked with, as well as the sonnets, so I am going to post them in a series over the next week. If you want to see the finished paintings then do come among to the exhibition which is open 9-4 every day in Lent, at St. Margaret’s just next to Westminster Abbey and across from the Houses of Parliament.

All but two of the sonnets are completely new. For two of the wilderness moments his Bible readings, and indeed sketches, came so close to what I had already written that we agreed to use earlier sonnets with some revision, but they seem to take a new life in the new sequence. As in other posts I have also read these poems aloud for you and you can hear them by clicking on the title or the play button.

So we begin with Genesis 3 chapter 18, with Abraham and Sarah at the oaks of Mamre in what is really, in both poem and painting, a meditation on Hospitality in the wilderness, a theme to which we will return with contemporary force in the final sonnet of the sequence. It is in the very act of going hospitality that Sarah and Abraham receive a blessing which confirms their true vocation. Their hospitality to the strangers has unlocked something in them and the power of God’s promise to bless us all through Abraham is released.

DSCF9148


1 Abraham and Sarah at Mamre

 

They practice hospitality; their hearts

Have opened like a secret source, free flowing

Only as they take another’s part.

Stopped in themselves, and in their own unknowing,

But unlocked by these strangers in their need,

They breathe again, and courtesy, set free,

Begets the unexpected; generosity

Begetting generation, as the seed

Of promise springs and laughs in Sarah’s womb.

 

Made whole by their own hospitality,

And like the rooted oak whose shade makes room

For this refreshing genesis at Mamre,

One couple, bringing comfort to their guests,

Becomes our wellspring in the wilderness.

 

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Third Sunday – Third Temptation!

You stand above the world on holy heights

As we come to the third sunday in Lent I offer again my meditation, in sonnet form, on the third temptation of Christ in the wilderness, following Luke’s narrative.

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. 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.

This sonnet is part of my collection Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press and available directly from them and also from Amazon and Blackwells Bookshops

This sonnet is also part of ‘Temptations ‘an amazing chamber opera by Rhiannon Randle

The Full Libretto is here: Temptations – final libretto

Here is the sound cloud recording: Temptations

For a youtube film of the opera see this previous post

The picture above is by Gustave Dore and the one below by Margot Krebs Neale. as always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

On the Pinnacle

‘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.’

I was not sent to look down from above

 

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The First Temptation

And He was led by the sprit into the Wilderness

It is traditional to spend the first Sunday in Lent reflecting on the three temptations Jesus endured and resisted in the Wilderness, though it is also possible to extend this meditation throughout Lent and this is what I propose to do within my sonnet series. Over the course of the next three weeks or so I will post three sonnets each reflecting on a different Temptation in  the wilderness starting this week with the Temptation to turn stones into bread, which prompts Jesus 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.

However I think its essential not to see the temptations entirely in negative terms. 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 recieves, enjoys, and crucially, shares. He does not turn stones into bread for himself on this occasion, 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! If Edmund had turned down the Witch’s turkish delight he would have come sooner to Aslan’s feast!. So here is the first of the three ‘temptation’ sonnets.

These Sonnets are all drawn from my new collection Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press and available from the publisher and from Amazon etc.

This sonnet was recently set to music as part of a Chamber Opera by Rhiannon Randle. for audio and video of the opera visit my previous post

As always I am grateul 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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The Third Temptation

You stand above the world on holy heights

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. 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.

This sonnet is part of my collection Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press and available directly from them and also from Amazon and Blackwells Bookshops

The picture above is by Gustave Dore and the one below by Margot Krebs Neale. as always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

On the Pinnacle

‘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.’

I was not sent to look down from above

 

7 Comments

Filed under christianity, literature, Poems

The First Temptation

And He was led by the sprit into the Wilderness

It is traditional to spend the first Sunday in Lent reflecting on the three temptations Jesus endured and resisted in the Wilderness, though it is also possible to extend this meditation throughout Lent and this is what I propose to do within my sonnet series. Over the course of the next three weeks or so I will post three sonnets each reflecting on a different Temptation in  the wilderness starting this week with the Temptation to turn stones into bread, which prompts Jesus 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.

However I think its essential not to see the temptations entirely in negative terms. 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 recieves, enjoys, and crucially, shares. He does not turn stones into bread for himself on this occasion, 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! If Edmund had turned down the Witch’s turkish delight he would have come sooner to Aslan’s feast!. So here is the first of the three ‘temptation’ sonnets.

These Sonnets are all drawn from my new collection Sounding the Seasons published by Canterbury Press and available from the publisher and from Amazon etc.

As always I am grateul 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

4 Comments

Filed under christianity, Poems

Temptation in the Wilderness (3)

You stand above the world on holy heights

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. 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.

The picture above is by Gustave Dore and the one below by Margot Krebs Neale. as always you can hear the sonnet by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button.

On the Pinnacle

‘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.’

I was not sent to look down from above

 

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