Advent 12: You are in the wilderness

For Thou art in the wilderness
Drawing and leading Thine Own love…
(Christina Rossetti, “The Chiefest Among Ten Thousand”)

The barren land will bear fruit
but now, in this waiting time, I must go
where barrenness still lingers
to meet with You who chose this
of all the compass points in creation,
of every nook of the ever-expanding universe –
chose this place, and this flesh.
I will go where You are found
and I will go to find Your face,
the Rose of Sharon set against the thistles,
the morning sun at heat of day.

Advent 10: Waiting

Bulbs in soil await the spring,
and fruit awaits the sun,
parched earth waits for thunderstorm
and watchmen wait for dawn.

Guilt awaits the gavel’s fall,
fear awaits the dreaded thing,
hope waits for what is not seen
and voices wait to sing.

The busy spirit does not wait;
“Time waits for no-one,” it will shout.
Impatience sooner dies than waits,
and reason tends to doubt.

My soul awaits the morning light,
as flowers droop until the day.
In fear and trembling I await;
make wilderness. Make way.

Too Much Light 1: Prepare the Way

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Delays are bad today; nothing moves.
Contained at interchange, a stencil house smiles, as though
to make this place feel more like home.
Small comfort: we go nowhere fast.
The morning yawns through Western traffic haze; the day’s
light’s too bright. We squint in glare.
Lane changes ache; all is standstill
until a way can open up, within this artery of roads.
No wilderness; the way prepared
congeals, and so we wait
with hearts tuned out (the voice won’t shout
that says, Prepare the way.)

Hymn of the Rock

Continuing my project of setting John Newton and William Cowper’s Olney Hymns to new music, here is my latest, a hymn which Newton called “That Rock Was Christ”, after 1 Corinthians 10:4. Newton’s words are, as always, beautiful, verging on heartbreaking. I have tried to capture them with my tune. It is perhaps the recording I am the happiest with so far. I hope you enjoy and benefit from it like I have done in recording it. Here are Newton’s words below for you to read as you listen.


That Rock Was Christ - John Newton (Original Music by Matthew Pullar)

When Israel's tribes were parch'd with thirst, 
Forth from the rock the waters burst; 
And all their future journey through 
Yielded them drink, and Gospel too! 

In Moses' rod a type they saw 
Of his severe and fiery law; 
The smitten rock prefigur'd Him 
From whose pierc'd side all blessings stream. 

Their outward rock could feel no pain, 
But ours was wounded, torn and slain; 
The rock gave but a wat'ry flood, 
But Jesus pour'd forth streams of blood. 

The earth is like their wilderness, 
A land of drought and sore distress; 
Without one stream from pole to pole, 
To satisfy a thirsty soul. 

But let the Saviour's praise resound; 
In him refreshing streams are found, 
Which pardon, strength, and comfort give; 
And thirsty sinners drink and live.

The Second Day (Holy Saturday)

Probably the first “liturgical” poem that I wrote was on Easter Saturday about six years ago. I had recently read Bruce Dawe’s marvellous “And a Good Friday was had by all” and, having been struck by the immediacy of his language and the power of his imagery, I felt moved to write something similar. I began by wondering: how would the disciples have felt while waiting out that Sabbath immediately after Jesus’ death? How, in particular, would Peter have felt, knowing that he had betrayed his Lord, not knowing how it would all turn out, having to his knowledge no opportunity to remedy what he had done?
 
It wasn’t an especially good poem, but it started me on a process of imaginatively approaching Scripture and using poetry as a means of doing this, a practice which is now a regular part of my life. Today’s poem, another Easter Saturday piece, recalls some of those original thoughts about what it might have meant to wait and rest on what must have been for Jesus’ followers the most painful and disappointing of Sabbaths.
 
The Second Day (Holy Saturday)
 
O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Collect of the Day)
 
The tree is felled, but its stump remains,
           Waiting, in the soil.
And we in our waiting sing muted refrains,
The cries of parched soil longing for rain
            And waiting in our toil…
 
The branch that grew from Jesse is severed;
            The Sabbath sits in tears.
Jerusalem’s daughter, still undelivered,
Looks silent on her rotting vineyard
            And mourns her broken years.
 
And Jonah’s sign lies buried in the deep;
           The whale’s belly churns.
The women beat their breasts while hope, asleep,
Lies in the earth with promises to keep;
            The week adjourns…
 
Could we, in our weeping, call this to mind,
            Like dew on each new day?
Never-ceasing steadfast love still binds
Us in its grasp which, ever-knowing, finds
            Us when we turn away?
 
The tree is felled, but its stump remains,
            Waiting for the dawn.
And we in our Sabbath sing muted refrains,
Longing faintly for our king who reigns
            Through every crying morn…

Desert Tears

This is the first in a number of poems that I am writing based around psalms that have been significant throughout my life. I am writing them as part of a memoir project in which I am using the psalms as a way of communicating my spiritual journey over the last few years. I hope that you enjoy this sneak preview of the project.
 
Desert Tears (Psalm 42)
 
Why so downcast,
           O my soul, my soul?
Why drag your heels through day
And scream into my ears at night?
Why eat your tears and drink
           The salty air of noon?
 
Where is your God?
            They say, they say,
Showing me the empty sky
And rubbing my face in mockery.
Where is your God?
            I ask myself and cry.
 
I remember years
            Long ago, long ago
When I went with joy to sing
And led the people singing too,
I remember and I weep
            To see that I have fallen.
 
Why so downcast,
            O my soul, my soul?
Why so anxious, so afraid,
So far flung from where you were?
Why do you rub your face
           In the soil of tears?
 
Hope in Him,
            My soul, my soul,
Hope, soul, in the Lord.
Look up from this wilderness,
Look up from your desert tears,
           For I will yet praise Him.

Qui Habitat Part 5 (Fifth Sunday of Lent)

Today’s poem continues my series for the Sundays of Lent, due to finish next week with Palm Sunday. Each poem draws on the psalm and the Gospel reading for the day, as well as some of the other set readings where appropriate. You can find the readings that it based upon here.

Qui Habitat Part 5 (Fifth Sunday of Lent)
 
           Wait and see:
I will do a new thing here.
In the desert sands, make way;
Forget the former things, for now
Streams of love will flow.
 
           Watch and learn:
Those who sow in tears will reap
With songs of joy upon these sands.
The jackals and the birds sing loud
For I make water flow.
 
            Sing and hope:
I will bring the captives home.
You will swim in desert streams
And wash your selves in blood that flows
From love’s desert fount.
 
            Cleanse and love:
She who is forgiven much
Will break her perfume on my feet,
Anointing me for when I wait
Within the earth’s dark tomb.