Burnt-out Prayer: For Ash Wednesday

King: I cannot come to You however I choose
yet all I am is a bundle
hurriedly put together,
no sack cloth, no ashes,
hair still mussed from slumber,
limbs dragging,
soul flat,
feet not yet expecting to walk…

Can I come to You as a stowaway,
scarcely awake, found among cargo,
hiding like Jonah while the waves ravage?
I bring no grand promise,
no sufficiency,
only the startled eyes of one caught unawares
and the knowledge that, when before kings, I must bow,
and, when cast in oceans, to swim.

Though forty days are hardly enough
for the numbness of limbs to distribute itself
and for fingers to learn, once again, how to pray –
I come to you, King, in dishevelled dismay
and declare my all dross at Your feet.
If my Amen burns faint now
or my wick dwindles, short,
may You be my prayer’s substance,
its fire,
its fuel.

My Jonah Heart


Recite this catalogue of wrongs:
I loved this tree   –   if you loved me
I always knew    –   I told you so…
And all the while in Ninevah
the people weep in ash.

Uphold your cause; God may forget
the hurts you hold, the wounds you bear.
The tree’s shade is your natural right.
Shake fists; see God reply…

The merciful, the good, the just:
perhaps He lost, amidst the dust
of Ninevah your noble case.
You must bemoan your tree.

Or turn your eyes to kings in ash
and rags. See hearts turn round.
You know His name; you know the truth.
Turn, Jonah, and arise.

Kyrie (Cornucopia of Heaven)

Image: Score of Palestrina's Kyrie Eleison myartprints.co.uk
Image: Score of Palestrina’s Kyrie Eleison myartprints.co.uk


After Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, “Missa Papae Marcelli: Kyrie”


From earth, from soil, from hearts, from fractures
             Kyrie               Kyrie
From death, from fire, from quake, from anguish
                          Kyrie               Kyrie
From drought that blocks, from self that locks
                                    Kyrie eleison

From sin, from toil, from pride, from hate
            Christe             Christe
From plenty turned to nothing, starving
                          Christe             Christe 
From world rebelling, fair made foul –                                                                                                                      Christe eleison
Sing, creation. Sing, dead bones.
            Kyrie               Kyrie
Long for what has died to live
                         Kyrie               Kyrie
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy –
Long for when He comes again –
                                 Kyrie eleison.

Lent 5: First Sunday of Lent

So bones, built to follow, ache

When trapped inside guilt’s cave.


Tongues, carved to praise, grow numb

When, dry and thick with sin, they lie in silence.


And hearts, taught to turn upwards in trust,

Grow ashen when no light has space to shine.


Open, heart. Untangle, tongue. Bones, rejoice.

Redemption light shines into every hoping heart…

Gerard van Honthorst, "King David Playing the Harp" http://commons.wikimedia.org
Gerard van Honthorst, “King David Playing the Harp”

Lent 2: Thursday After Ash Wednesday

The soil says that we are dust;
In dust and soil we stand.
A voice from in the wilderness
Calls out, Prepare the way…

In dust a child lays its head,
In sawdust whittles wood
And takes on ash and dust for us
And washes in the sea.

In ash and dust we wait for you;
Our soiled souls now wait.
You take our ash, you take our dust
And wash us as you bleed.

“Shriven” – Streaming Page CXVI Day 7

Today is Shrove Tuesday, a day simultaneously associated with pancakes and confession of sin. It is also the day before Lent begins, with Ash Wednesday’s focus on repentance: a day of feasting before the fast begins. Today’s song, the final track from Page CXVI’s “Lent to Maundy Thursday”, is a beautiful reflection on the love and grace of God, a perfect way to prepare our hearts for the beginning of the Lent season. If you have enjoyed what you’ve heard of the album in the past week, it will be released any moment now. (Due to the vagaries of timezones, I am posting this before it hits the 4th of March in the US.) Go to the band’s website for updates on availability.

Here also is my final pre-Lent poem. I am looking forward to sharing more Lent reflections with you over the next forty days. God bless.


Shrove Tuesday

Shrivelled, riven, sick with sin
  and grieved with griefs too deep, too dim -
I crawl, I climb, I cannot climb;
     I call, my God, I call.

I love the Lord; He hears my cry
  and drags me, dumb, out from the tomb;
my soul, my soul, destined for death -
     He lifts, my soul, He gives...

Sunken, shriven, sick within
  and barely breath left to breathe in -
my God, my God: I cry, You cry,
     and save my soul from sin.

Author of Life (Thursday in Easter Week)

“It’s true: the Author of life lay dead,
            Lay three days inside death’s tomb,
The Righteous and the Holy One
            Made Himself an offering to
Ignorant, unrighteous men
            Who knew not what they did.
It’s true, for we are witnesses;
            We saw Him breathe and saw Him die
And saw Him rise again and eat
            Fish and bread among us, He
Who made the fish swim, made grain grow
            And lay dead on a tree.
Look: the one who makes bones live
            And opens blinded eyes has made
The lame man walk along with us,
            And you too must receive
The gift of faith, the gift of life,
            The gift of utter joy.”
The lame man clinging onto them
            Saw the stares of men who knew
Everything yet nothing too.
            “Times of refreshing may come to you,”
Peter said, the tail’s sting
            Hanging in the wind:
For everything was done for them
            And nothing they could give,
Every debt was paid and all
            Faith was theirs to take,
Yet some there were who still would not
           Die that they might live.

Repentance (Tuesday in Easter Week)

“Let the house of Israel know!”
He cried, and cut them to the heart
Who, guilt of Adam in their bones,
Had hammered in the nails.
“What should we do?” they cried in fear,
Seeing their hands at the cross,
Their sins like thieves at Jesus’ side,
Their voices raised to crucify.
“Repent,” he told them, “and believe.”
For he knew well the truth he spoke,
The broken one whom roosters heard,
Now called to feed His sheep.

Common Prayer: A Sonnet for Thomas Cranmer

Even as a picture graven or painted is but a dead representation of the thing itself, and is without life, or any manner of moving; so be the works of all unfaithful persons before God. They do appear to be lively works, and indeed they be but dead, not availing to the eternal life.

(Thomas Cranmer, Homily of Good Works Annexed Unto Faith)
Our hearts, contrite, turn upwards in faint faith.
    Though fallen far from grace, we now return,
    As ash to ash and dust into the urn;
We lift our prayers in hope of turning wrath
And walk again this old, well-trodden path.
    Your men and women, strong through every turn –
    Of faith that purifies still as it burns –
Remind us of Your long-forgotten truth:
That in our hearts we cannot reach Your heights
    Nor hope to find You through sheer dint of will
     Can only fabricate our own despair;
And yet You call the humble and contrite,
    To seek Your mercy while it lingers still,
    And offer up our broken, common prayer.