Category Archives: poetry

30 April: Ramadan ends tomorrow!

Bishop Claude Rault, Bishop Emeritus of the Sahara, shared this prayer by an early Muslim mystic, Rabi’a al Adawiyya, (717-801). It is a prayer that anyone could make their own. Bishop Claude has devoted his life to being present in dialogue and neighbourliness with the Muslims of Algeria, and to the study of Islam.

Oh my God,
if it is through fear of hell fire that I adore You,
then burn me in hell fire.
And if it is through hope of Paradise that I adore You,
then chase me out of Paradise.

But if I adore You simply for Yourself,
Do not deprive me of Your eternal beauty.

Oh my God,
all my desire in this world is to remember You
and all my desire for the world to come
is to encounter You.
That is how it is for me
but You: do whatever You will.

+ Claude Rault, Jesus, l’Homme de la Rencontre, Marseille, Publications Chemins de Dialogue, 2020, p31.

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29 April: The deaths of Gerontius and others

Passion flowers speak of the resurrection

A little while ago on BBC Radio the composer, Sir James MacMillan, was discussing Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, based on Saint John Henry Newman’s poem. In his exploration of the oratorio he recalled his experiences as a young altar server, experiences I could share. Gerontius, he said, lays out the Catholic attitude to death and the world to come in ‘most beautiful music’.

He and I, in Scotland and England, served at funerals where there were many mourners, and in a few cases where there were one or two, even none; so many of our fellow Catholics then had left home and family to come to the United Kingdom. (Thank God for today’s regular parish midday Mass in Canterbury, where there is always a good-sized congregation to support the bereaved!)

Most of the people Sir James and I helped to bury would have been hurt by the Second World War, and knew suffering and death intimately. Loss of faith and friends, great sorrow, compounded in this new bereavement. The First World War had undermined Elgar’s faith, said MacMillan, yet he still composed this searingly beautiful music, giving form to the feelings of mourners.

Children had been more aware of death, even in the 1950s and 1960s. I can see myself, holding the processional cross beside an open grave, as a red-headed Irishman, tears streaming down his face, laid to rest the tiny coffin of his twin babies.

It’s no use saying I should have been protected, prevented from witnessing that. I disagree: I am sure Fr MacDermott was wise to ask me to serve, to represent the Church, the body of the second Adam, the Crucified whose image I was carrying. Far rather having to cope with that intimate vision than the callous slaughter of the innocent of Ukraine.

The hymn ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’ is taken from the Dream of Gerontius; the oratorio can be found on Youtube.

1 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

2 O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.

3 O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
which did in Adam fail,
should strive afresh against the foe,
should strive and should prevail;

4 And that a higher gift than grace
should flesh and blood refine,
God’s presence and his very self,
and essence all-divine.

5 O generous love! that he, who smote
in Man for man the foe,
the double agony in Man
for man should undergo;

6 And in the garden secretly,
and on the cross on high,
should teach his brethren, and inspire
to suffer and to die.

7 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

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28 April: THE SHOWER

Waters above! eternal springs! 
The dew that silvers the Dove's wings! 
O welcome, welcome to the sad! 
Give dry dust drink; drink that makes glad! 
Many fair ev'nings, many flow'rs 
Sweeten'd with rich and gentle showers, 
Have I enjoy'd, and down have run 
Many a fine and shining sun; 
But never, till this happy hour, 
Was blest with such an evening-shower! 

                                                  From "Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Volume II.

This was not an April shower, but a March one; a morning but not an evening shower yet I'm sure Henry Vaughan would have appreciated it, as I did, seeing the raindrops on the willows shining on the osiers. Laudato Si'!

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22 April: A Promise

2009-05-04 20.01.43 (800x532)

Part of me wants Genesis 9:8-15, God’s Covenant with Noah, to be an Easter Vigil reading, when in fact it comes at the beginning of Lent in Year B. Nevertheless, it does speak of salvation, and water bringing Noah’s family to new life; it’s a little taste of Easter as Lent starts. The rainbow still tastes of Easter if we celebrate it in Easter week, with the curate of Selborne, Gilbert White. Our picture is of the rainbow seen over our friend Mrs O’s house on the day of her funeral. White was a pioneer of natural history, and here the scientist and theologian are one with the poet: ‘Lovely refraction!’ ‘Maker Omnipotent.’ Happy Easter!

ON THE RAINBOW by Gilbert White of Selborne.

” Look upon the Rainbow, and praise him that made it: very beautiful is it in the brightness thereof.” Ecclesiastes, 18:11.

On morning or on evening cloud impress'd, 
Bent in vast curve, the watery meteor shines 
Delightfully, to th' levell'd sun opposed: 
Lovely refraction ! while the vivid brede 
In listed colours glows, th' unconscious swain, 
With vacant eye, gazes on the divine 
Phenomenon, gleaming o'er the illumined fields, 
Or runs to catch the treasures which it sheds. 
Not so the sage: inspired with pious awe, 
He hails the federal arch ; and looking up, 
Adores that God, whose fingers form'd this bow 
Magnificent, compassing heaven about
With a resplendent verge, " Thou mad'st the cloud, 
Maker omnipotent, and thou the bow
And by that covenant graciously hast sworn 
Never to drown the world again: henceforth, 
Till time shall be no more, in ceaseless round, 
Season shall follow season: day to night,
Summer to winter, harvest to seed time,
Heat shall to cold in regular array
Succeed. — Heav'n taught, so sang the Hebrew bard." 

(from “The Natural History of Selborne” by Gilbert White)

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21 April: Safe.

2009-05-04 20.01.43 (800x532)

We don’t tend to recycle old posts but this one, from January six years ago, follows well yesterday’s reflection by Emily Dickinson on the forgotten grave. Mary Webb looked forward to her own grave as a haven from the sufferings of this life, especially from the unkindness of other people. Her face was disfigured by Graves’ Disease which can now be successfully treated and she was sensitive about this.

We began the post with another woman’s death and burial.

We buried our friend Mrs O a few days ago. She had a good send-off, the church comfortably full. I was comforted an hour earlier, to see a rainbow, arched over her house as the rain drifted away into the North Sea. A promise that she will not perish! And the thrush and blackbird were singing.

But here is Mary Webb, feeling downhearted as she writes. May she rest in peace and rise in glory!

‘Safe’ by Mary Webb.

Under a blossoming tree
Let me lie down,
With one blackbird to sing to me
In the evenings brown.
Safe from the world’s long importunity –
The endless talk, the critical, sly stare,
The trifling social days – and unaware
Of all the bitter thoughts they have of me,
Low in the grass, deep in the daisies,
I shall sleep sound, safe from their blames and praises.

That is one of Mrs Turnstone’s favourite poems.

https://wordpress.com/post/willturnstone.wordpress.com/832

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 20 April: The Forgotten Grave.

This very chapel and its graveyard are all but forgotten as the village it served has moved three kilometres away.
After a hundred years 
Nobody knows the place, — 
Agony, that enacted there, 
Motionless as peace. 

Weeds triumphant ranged, 
Strangers strolled and spelled 
At the lone orthography 
Of the elder dead. 

Winds of summer fields 
Recollect the way, — 
Instinct picking up the key 
Dropped by memory.
 
From Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete, via Kindle.

Two thousand years on, and people know the place of Christ’s agony in the garden, his further agony and death on Calvary; the place of his tomb; they visit them in their thousands every year.

But did Mary Magdalene return to the tomb – or Peter or John – after Easter? Mary took the Lord’s message to the Apostles: they were to take themselves to Galilee, they knew the way. Before long Peter was leading them out to the boats for a fishing expedition. But the winds of summer seas would take most of them far away, to where people were waiting to hear the Good News from the fishers of men and women. No need for the disciples to revisit the empty tomb, but James and his church in Jerusalem surely remembered and marked the spot.

We cannot all hope to visit the Holy Land, but we can go to Mass this Easter time, or slip into the back of any church, acknowledge the ever-present risen Lord, and then … go back home, back to our daily lives, to glorify the Lord by our life. To share the Good News, mostly without words, but living as other Christs in today’s world, letting the Spirit speak through our instinct.

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19 April: No man is base

The Welsh Poet, Henry Vaughan, (d.1695) called himself a Silurist, claiming descent from a pre-Roman tribe that ruled his part of Wales. Yet he maintains that 'A noble offspring surely then without distinction are all men.' We are all of us Easter Children, children of God, each one of us nobly born. No room for racism, as Archbishop Wilson was saying yesterday; we must be children of hope, of one beginning, one birth, one resurrection.

All sorts of men, that live on Earth, 
Have one beginning and one birth. 
For all things there is one Father, 
Who lays out all, and all doth gather. 
He the warm sun with rays adorns, 
And fills with brightness the moon's horns. 
The azur'd heav'ns with stars He burnish'd, 
And the round world with creatures furnish'd. 
But men—made to inherit all— 
His own sons He was pleas'd to call, 
And that they might be so indeed, 
He gave them souls of divine seed. 
A noble offspring surely then 
Without distinction are all men. 
O, why so vainly do some boast 
Their birth and blood and a great host 
Of ancestors, whose coats and crests 
Are some rav'nous birds or beasts! 
If extraction they look for, 
And God, the great Progenitor, 
No man, though of the meanest state, 
Is base, or can degenerate, 
Unless, to vice and lewdness bent, 
He leaves and taints his true descent.

from Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist: Boethius, De Consolatione, Englished.

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16 April: Void


 VOID


 Great streets of silence led away
To neighbourhoods of pause;
Here was no notice, no dissent,
No universe, no laws.
 

By clocks ‘t was morning, and for night
The bells at distance called;
But epoch had no basis here,
For period exhaled.”

(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete”)

Emily captures some of the bleakness experienced by the disciples after Good Friday. No universe, no laws, no certainty, after Jesus exhaled his spirit with his last breath.

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12 April: The Love of Christ Which Passeth Knowledge

” I bore with thee long weary days and nights,
  Through many pangs of heart, through many tears;
I bore with thee, thy hardness, coldness, slights,
    For three and thirty years.
 Who else had dared for thee what I have dared?
  I plunged the depth most deep from bliss above;
I not My flesh, I not My spirit spared:
    Give thou Me love for love.
 For thee I thirsted in the daily drouth,
  For thee I trembled in the nightly frost:
Much sweeter thou than honey to My mouth:
    Why wilt thou still be lost?
 I bore thee on My shoulders and rejoiced:
  Men only marked upon My shoulders borne
The branding cross; and shouted hungry-voiced,
    Or wagged their heads in scorn.
 Thee did nails grave upon My hands, thy name
  Did thorns for frontlets stamp between Mine eyes:
I, Holy One, put on thy guilt and shame;
    I, God, Priest, Sacrifice.
 A thief upon My right hand and My left;
  Six hours alone, athirst, in misery:
At length in death one smote My heart and cleft
    A hiding-place for thee.
 Nailed to the racking cross, than bed of down
  More dear, whereon to stretch Myself and sleep:
So did I win a kingdom,—share my crown;
    A harvest,—come and reap.
Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti’s reflection challenges her readers to look through Jesus’ eyes and heart, to acknowledge our betrayals and falling short, but to put ourselves in that cleft heart and share his crown, share his harvest.

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10 April: Palm Sunday, The Passion and I.

Good Friday

Am I a stone and not a sheep
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy Cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep?

 Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
 Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon,--
I, only I.

 Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Christina Rossetti

This post card was sent home by a man who himself never came home from the Great War. Ironically, it was produced in Munich, sent home to Manchester from Poperinghe in Belgium, and saved by the recipient and her descendants.

Christina Rossetti puts herself with Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene and other women who stood weeping, next to the Cross, owning a lack of tears on her own part. Poetic licence, I feel. Her heart in this poem is full of sorrow and self-accusation, but she is also repentant, asking God to strike her stony heart, as he commanded Moses to strike to rock in the desert:

“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” (Exodus 17:1-7).

If the Lord makes our hearts run with tears, whether physical or inner tears, will we give the people living water to drink?

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