Category Archives: Poems

The Holy Spirit – THE wind beneath our wings

pentecost

Last Sunday marked the coming of the Holy Spirit to the new community of Jesus called the Church! Nothing would remain the same!

Malcolm Guite, poet, Anglican priest, and song-writer has written a whole book of sonnets for the Christian Year. I want to share his beautiful rendering of 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,
Translated out of death and into 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.

I love the implications of Pentecost for the world-wide spread of the Gospel. Note the play on words in the last two lines.  We speak of something being “lost in translation.” With the coming of the Spirit and the Church charged with making disciples of all peoples, NO ONE need be “lost in translation.” Every nation knows the language of love that comes from God!

Prayer – too marvelous for words?

George Herbert’s poem, Prayer (I) is a dense cascade of metaphors, ending in the simple phrase, “something understood.” Here is the poem, followed by helpful commentary by an Australian theologian and blogger, Ben Myers.  

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
         God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
         The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
         Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
         The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.

The whole poem comes rushing out as a single breathless exhilarating sentence, piling image upon image in a kind of rhapsodic abandon. The images are startling, contradictory, incapable of conceptual reduction. Prayer is as gentle as breath or the fragrance of spices, yet it is also a violent ‘engine against th’ Almightie’, a battering ram with which the Christian lays siege against God. It is as soothing as ‘a kinde of tune’, yet it’s a tune that strikes ‘fear’ into the heart of all creation. It is exotic, strange, inexplicable – the Milky Way, the bird of paradise, the land of spices – yet also as homely and familiar as dressing in one’s Sunday best. Yes, prayer is heaven, but it is ‘heaven in ordinarie’. It maps out the contours of the inner self – ‘the soul in paraphrase’, ‘the souls bloud’ – but also reaches ‘beyond the stars’. It’s like a ship’s sounding line, not dropped into the sea but cast up into the sky, a ‘plummet sounding heav’n’. Similarly, it is ‘reversed thunder’: Jove’s thunder is turned back on himself, a bolt shooting up from earth to heaven.

These dizzying spatial images stretch the imagination beyond its furthest limits. The stage on which prayer takes place is infinitely vast. Yet juxtaposed with this immensity is the image of prayer as ‘the soul in paraphrase’, a tiny abridgement of all the depths and complexities of a human story. Indeed prayer is an hour-long abridgement of the whole ‘six daies world’ – an image that at once evokes the huge dimensions of prayer and its minute scale. It is a gigantic mystery that sounds the most profound depths, yet so small you can fit it in your pocket…

In the final stanza, all the senses are engaged. Prayer is soft and supple to touch; it tastes like manna; it is the vision of a star-filled sky; it smells like the land of spices; it sounds like the distant peal of bells (either earth’s bells heard in heaven, or heavenly bells heard on earth: Herbert is tantalisingly ambiguous). This explosion of sensual imagery doesn’t serve conceptual clarity. What would church bells sound like if they echoed from another galaxy? What does an exotic country smell like, a country you’ve never visited? Come to think of it, what exactly does heavenly manna taste like? If these images teach us something about prayer, it is primarily by destabilising our understanding, driving us to the brink of an unspeakable mystery.

And so the whole great cascade of imagery is finally resolved in just two words, ‘something understood’… In Herbert’s poem one anticipates a resolution, but it never seems to arrive – until it suddenly interrupts the final line in a way that is startling, abrupt, unexpected. Just as prayer abridges all history into an hour, so the whole poem is condensed into these closing words. What is prayer? It is ‘something understood’. These are the only words in the poem that are not wrapped up in some imagery: here there is neither concept nor imagery, only a quiet understanding.

The real purpose of all the conflicting images was simply to clear this space – not, in fact, a space for understanding (as though the poem were trying to ‘explain’ prayer), but a space for prayer itself. As talk-about-prayer passes over into praying, something is understood that language can never capture. In fourteen lines we have plumbed heaven and earth, feasted and made war, spanned all the farthest reaches of time and space. But now – as so often in Herbert – we find ourselves kneeling alone in the dusky light of a little country church, listening softly to that profound yet homely silence. Here at last, where understanding ceases, prayer is understood.

Certainly, then, there is something akin to an apophatic moment. The moment of silent understanding, however, occurs not in opposition to the clumsy limitation of language, but within it. It is Herbert’s first thirteen-and-a-half lines that create the experience of the poem’s close. It’s not as though there were first of all a sheer wordless experience of prayer, which is subsequently described in words. Rather the poetic language itself creates the conditions for an experience of silence. Wordless prayer is a possibility within language. Contemplative silence is the calm eye at the centre of the roiling storm of language.

To put it another way, Herbert’s poem is not about the poverty of human language, but about the inexhaustible riches of prayer. Prayer is too much – too much for language, too much even for poetry. More than anywhere else in Herbert’s poetry, we catch a glimpse here of language straining against its own possibilities – not as one struggles against a straitjacket, but as a horse champs at the bit before a race, straining because there is too much to say. Silence is not the phenomenon that ensues when language reaches its limit, much less some primordial pre-linguistic abyss from which language subsequently emerges. In the company of a close friend, I sometimes find myself reduced to silence. Not because the relationship is wordless (nothing is more verbose than friendship), but because in friendship one can never say enough; the real goal of friendship is to talk your way into silence. This is just what Herbert portrays in so many of his poetic conversations with God. One can never say enough to God. And so, in its fullness, language ripens into silence. Language is outrun by its own resources, it spills over into the baffled joy of contemplation.

‘Our hearts are restless…’ and that can be good!

George Herbert wrote a wonderful poem reminiscent of Augustine’s words, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in You.”

Herbert’s poem goes to a deeper place…
of loving God for Himself and not for His great blessings!

The Pulley

  When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
   Contract into a span.”
___
   So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
   Rest, in the bottom lay.
___
   “For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
   So both should losers be.
___
   “Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
   May toss him to my breast.”

Q – Do you ever find yourself adoring God’s gifts instead of God?

A Sonnet for ‘Ascension Day’

7thSinaiAscension300Today marks the Ascension of Christ in the Western Church – 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection. Why is it so vital (and yet often neglected?)  Read this post: “Why the Ascension Matters To Our Mission.”

I’d like to share a poem – a  sonnet – that draws out the profound beauty and power of Christ’s Ascension! Read it out loud – more than once!

Ascension Day, by Malcolm Guite

We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place,
As earth became part of heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted,
He took us with him to the heart of things,
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and heaven-centered now, and sings;
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness,
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light;
His light in us, and ours in him concealed,
Which all creation waits to see revealed.

– Sounding the Seasons, p.45

A Commitment to Excellence?

excellenceMy working definition of Excellence in the Christian context is this:

Honoring God with our BEST in everything we do!

Listen to the teaching on Excellence for the Glory of God here.

Do to the snow storms of the last two weeks, many were not able to be at Christ Church for this last in the series on What is God Calling Christ Church To Be? so I encourage you to take a few moments to get caught up.

A quote and a poem:

“It is my firm conviction that those who impact and reshape the world for God are those who are committed to living above the level of mediocrity.”

(Chuck Swindoll, Rising Above the Level of Mediocrity)

Life is a leaf of paper white
Whereon each one of us may write
His word or two, and then comes night.
Greatly begin! though thou have time
But for a line, be that sublime–
Not failure, but low aim, is crime.

(James Russell Lowell)

QUESTION: Do you have a commitment to excellence?  If not, what will grow that commitment?

Poetry Monday – “Life”

Jamestown, RI
Jamestown, RI

On this New Year’s Eve,
I’m doing some life review
and some humble planning ahead.

Pastor, poet George Herbert (1593-1633)
wrote a short poem called Life,
reminding himself of its unpredictable span
and of its hopefully lasting significance.

Life

I made a posy, while the day ran by:
“Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie
                           My life within this band.”
But Time did beckon to the flowers, and they
By noon most cunningly did steal away,
                           And withered in my hand.

My hand was next to them, and then my heart;
I took, without more thinking, in good part
                           Time’s gentle admonition;
Who did so sweetly death’s sad taste convey,
Making my mind to smell my fatal day,
                           Yet, sug’ring the suspicion.

Farewell dear flowers, sweetly your time ye spent,
Fit, while ye lived, for smell or ornament,
                           And after death for cures.
I follow straight without complaints or grief,
Since, if my scent be good, I care not if
                           It be as short as yours.

a poem and a painting about LOVE

by Hannah Mullaney
by Hannah Mullaney

Our fourth Sunday in Advent focused on God’s indescribable love in Christ and how the Church becomes, “Christmas for the World!” Each week has featured a video story and a painting – this week was Tim and Hannah Mullaney.  See the video and listen to the sermon here.

AGAPE LOVE

Jesus doesn’t love us like a man loves his wife (not EROS),

His love is far greater than a best friend for life (not PHILOS),

Jesus doesn’t hold us in a tight embrace (we are free),

Jesus gives us love with his arms agape (that’s right – AGAPE!)

      Tim Mullaney, c. 2012

 

“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen

“The great thing to remember is that though our feelings come and go God’s love for us does not.”
C.S. Lewis

Poetry Monday – Lament and Peace

A Psalm and a poem by Wendell Berry in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy.

from Psalm 5 (NIV)

Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.
Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord , detest.

But I, by your great love, can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.
Lead me,  Lord , in your righteousness because of my enemies—
make your way straight before me.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Surely,  Lord , you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:1-12 NIV)

The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

NOTE: A Boston band, Crooked Still, put this poem to music that you can listen to here.

Poetry Monday – A Rage Against Age-ism

Kingston Station, West Kingston, RI, USA

“Old age?”
Just a stage?
Turning the page?
Try to assuage?
No! Call me the Sage,
…my children.

Time to retire?
Wait for the pyre?
I’ll call out that liar.
I still aspire.
My desire has never been higher
…to fully live.

This is prime time,
not borrowed time.
Get off the dime!
I can still rhyme;
yes, the chime
…is still ringing.

This next station
Is not forced vacation,
graduation or capitulation.
It’s preparation for the consummation!
So help prepare the generation
…yet to come.

I wanna see a legacy.
No more fantasy.
I’ll live in reality,
loving with totality,
true piety and simplicity.
…All Glory to God.

Lyle Mook, c. 2012

Poetry Monday – Jesus Loves the little children of the world

Poetry has a way of capturing what can’t be easily put into words. Here are two poems that give voice to the voiceless children of poverty; children loved by Jesus. One is by a poet, the late Anne Porter.  The second is by one of our church elders, who doesn’t often write poetry, but was moved to verse after his second trip to South Sudan.

A FAMINE CHILD, Anne Porter (see her bio)

You had no food today
And may have none tomorrow
Child whose ribs are showing
Under your dark skin

Unwilling to be wounded
By the sight
Of so unjust a hunger

Or to confront the anger
Of the Lord who made you

We look away
We turn away our faces.

African Kids, Mike Galdonik

Why should I care?
They’re over there.
Why should I care?
They’re just a bunch of kids.
They’re far away,
I don’t have to see them.

So what, they don’t have a home.
So what, they didn’t eat today.
So what, they don’t have a father to sing them a song.
So what, they don’t have a mother to love them.
So what, there’s a sick girl…
is she alive any more?

They’re over there,
why should I care?
They’re over there,
but they’re in my mind.

Did God put them there?
But they’re over there.
Did God put this tear in my eye?
They’re over there,
why should I care?
They’re over there…
God put them there.

See here, to learn more about Covenant Kids Congo, our denomination-wide movement for child sponsorship through World Vision.  Go to our Christ Church website to listen to the teaching at Christ Church on “Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World.”