Learning the names of days, my son
asks each morning for the signs that distinguish
one from the next: is this
the day the rubbish truck comes?
Does Dad go to work?
Is it music class today?
And this day, one without
any special markers, leaves me
bereft of news to give him, only
the name - Wednesday - and the thought
that days like this are needed, when
we simply live, and get on with life,
while trees do their daily work
and cells respirate, we too
find grace in the normal,
and the chance to try
again what we left
undone as yesterday's sun went down.
All this I cannot say, only
that these ordinary days
bring their own small gifts.
I’m looking forward to sharing a number of videos of poems from my upcoming book Les Feuilles Mortes in the coming weeks, including several from my friends and readers across the world. Here is the first, a letter written in quarantine to my young children.
In memory of Kathleen Mary Savage, 1929-2020
Beside thistled paddocks I make my way,
sun nestled in grey,
faint light peeking through.
These paddocks contain
the means of my flight,
and when I arrive where the fruit trees grow
I shall see what's lost of home.
When final breath is breathed in the night
and what faces we knew
we scarce recognise,
when all that we've lost
is in memories of home,
we will return, though some
And when the clouds part into light,
shall we see what the morning brings?
A grandmother young,
a conquering king?
In thistled paddocks,
still tied to ground,
the flight has not shown
what one day will be shown.
But this we know: the fighting shall cease
and when we set foot once more on ground
we shall be young among apple trees
and love upon love will return.
In a creaking house for family feasting, I sat
as summer light streamed through leadlight doors and
cracks in curtains,
fairy lights twinkling on pine tree while
I rocked my youngest, disrupted by
the change of place, his older
brother’s noise and the stubborn light,
and tried to make a darkness conducive
to an eight-month child’s much-needed sleep,
and fancied the Father
keeping vigil by my fretful side
neither slumbering nor sleeping
until true day arrives.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent – and of a new church year! Having just launched my book “The Swelling Year”, I’m a little behind in my own plans for how to mark the season here at The Consolations of Writing, but I thought I’d begin by sharing some of my favourite Advent resources for those who are on the lookout for a devotional resource for themselves or their families.
1. Names of Jesus Advent Calendar (from Sweet Honeycomb)
This gorgeous hand-made calendar is a lovely alternative to chocolate and Santa. Each day, turn over a number to see a name for Jesus and read a passage relating to it. You also get daily devotionals emailed to you with online purchase. Great for families or individuals alike.
2. Biola University Centre for Christianity, Culture and the Arts’ Advent Project
Twice a year these people do a seasonal devotional series, in Lent and Advent. They combine art, music, poetry and scripture to create a visceral devotional experience that I always appreciate.
3. Young Oceans – “Advent” album
Many bands claim to release Advent albums that are basically Christmas albums. There’s a few that capture the longing that Advent is all about. This is one of the best.
4. Walter Wangerin Jr – Preparing for Jesus
Wangerin is a gifted storyteller, especially when it comes to capturing the magical everydayness of the Bible story. These devotions open up the many stories contained in the Advent story in delightful and profound ways.
5. Rachel Mann – In the Bleak Midwinter: Through Advent and Christmas with Christina Rossetti
This one is brand new for Advent 2019. I’m just about to start it so can’t vouch for it entirely. But I know Rossetti well enough to be confident.
Know some other great resources? Drop me a comment to let me know. I’d love to hear about them.
Meanwhile, have a blessed Advent everyone. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus.
and the laundry, piled up
in crevices and corridors as though to say,
“You can hide me, but you cannot do without me.”
Toys underfoot and books scattered wide
amongst other toddler treasures:
a measuring cup, a rooster,
a brochure considered la mode before
some other fancy flitted through the growing mind.
Some things are permanent, like
dishes, some new –
an Amen! after grace.
Unsettled nights and
teary mornings only serve to say
that all this may pass, but God
it is good that it finds me at all.
…it was I who taught Ephraim to walk…
In truth, I teach this child very little.
So much is sheer instinct, determination,
what HR would call “get up and go”.
But there’s little of HR, more of
the deep-sea diver
or the alchemist at his art,
to how this small enthusiast takes
to his knees, then feet, then –
I did not teach him this.
No, this has a deeper logic,
one taught to joints and sinews,
flowing in marrow, raising from soil
to soul, teaching the human spirit
Best is the Father who says, Let it Be, and all Is.
Best the Father who teaches Baby Father me
to bounce the pensive child and sing
a song in the night for dreams.
For I too, often reduced to a crawl,
must also learn, down in the sinews and the marrows of the self
the truth that says, Rise up and walk.
Grand plans will have to wait.
Time works differently here:
sometimes it hums,
sometimes skips, sometimes
You will think, “There’s a thought;
I’ll write about that-”
Only – catch the thought, before
nappies and necessity
make it dissipate
in baths at 8
and all that joy – the total joy
that nonetheless necessitates
that all grand plans will have to wait.
At end of day, the poem is this:
the breathing child
upon the chest.
Catch the moment while you can:
stardust spark in the grandest plan.
I go to prepare a place for you.
We do too;
with unsure anticipation, we make a space
atop the stairs, with bunting and books
and animals on the walls,
a cot, tiny clothes,
a place for your toys.
We also prepare
our days, our thoughts.
They too make space
for the big rearrange,
this reordering of selves,
this exchanging of grace.
We sweep out old cobwebs, air out stale pride.
Not only our home
but our hearts must be fit.
We prepare a space for you.
While eternity yawns its welcoming wait,
our big brother making a place for us too,
checking the time, vacuuming floors,
eagerly listening to knocks at the door…
Does my heart have room too
for eternity’s home?
We wait. We are waited for.
Time to make room.
…you will not find my actual life in these pages so much as my thoughts on the graces Our Lord has given me. I have reached the stage now where I can afford to look back; in the crucible of trials from within and without, my soul has been refined, and I can raise my head like a flower after a storm and see how the words of the Psalm have been fulfilled in my case: “The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall want nothing…”
St Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul
My brother led me to prayer,
a child, afraid in the dark.
My sister taught me, downcast, to say,
Why so downcast, O my soul?
My parents taught me to ask and search
yet not be controlled by the heart’s wild waves.
My teachers fed my questions
and books sustained my mind.
Lewis taught me magic
and Love deep, deep in time.
Robert Frost was early rhythm;
Eliot and Herbert came later on.
Auden taught me the happy eye,
the sober perspective on the folded lie,
Kierkegaard the lily’s glory
and the grace that strikes in anxious thought.
Bunyan and Luther and Thérèse
knew the scruples that strike, and the way –
the Little Way at Jesus’ feet –
so once again I’m led to pray.
My wife has taught me the open heart;
now my home and hearth expand.
O Love that finds me everywhere:
Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.