1. The Parish Church
Under the weathered roof, the people pray
And God incarnate rests with them today.
It is as if the tabernacle tent
Was pitched anew at Atherton Le Brent.
In Saxon stone; from ancient Georgian pew
The age long words make all things live anew.
And if the organ has the oddest pitch
The mood is faithful and the singing rich.
Then with a glow half human, half divine
Christ dwells once more in humble bread and wine.
And all around the saintly forebears sing
Their praises to our Saviour, God and King.
Outside the yew tree shudders in the gale,
Men long for peace and drink their brooding ale.
2. Jesus in WellsIf Jesus walked along the streets of Wells,
One day in Oxford, I walked round the town
To see a little of the Colleges.
In Keble’s Chapel, twilight, half unlit,
I saw my Saviour knocking at the door
Of my poor heart, which opened from within,
In Holman Hunt’s great allegory of love.
It is, to me, this artist’s greatest work.
I see it now, etched clearly in my mind.
The dull, red robe, which clearly has to tell
Of all the pain and suffering still to come.
The crown of thorns, in that half halo-ed light;
And in his holy hands, a lantern, brass
And strident weeds around his holy feet.
Whilst I, within, tied up with selfish thoughts
And yet a deeper longing to be free.
There was such pain, such love and thus I leapt
Beyond the precipice; was saved and slept!
Do you speak Arabic three personed God?
Do you sit weeping as the bombs fly out?
Do you console the mothers as they hold
Their dying children in Iraq’s red dust?
What strange demented logic made us think
That we could build democracy with bombs;
Or use unfocused warfare to impose
The free elections of a modern State.
If we sow force, then we will harvest hate;
And generations now not even born
Will suffer from our hollow victories
And curse the righteousness that drove us on.
All these long days so filled with pain and sorrow
Will wound our souls and crucify tomorrow.
5. Barack Obama 11. 04. 08
There is a promise in the air tonight
When we can dare to think of better things.
When we, with holy tears, restore our sight
Of joyful freedom; chains undone; and wings!
Take off those chains and slowly put them down
Upon the earth. It is an altar now.
In country lanes; in every part of town
The ghostly slaves stand up and we all bow.
Then shall we stand with them, our courage bright
And take our neighbour’s hand and vow to toil
To make the Founders’ dream a true delight
For each who walks upon this precious soil.
The task before us dangerous, hard and long;
But, one from many, we shall sing our song.
6. The Silence
In the silence between the words
There are secret psalms,
Within the psalms of evening;
And there is sunshine and laughter
And soft, cool water
In the dry, not prayed in places of my life.
In the silence between the words
There is a shy communion
And the Saviour approaches.
Or rather he was always there
And I escape myself to go to him.
In the silence between the words
I sit amidst the source of all creation
And am not afraid.
There are whisperings here,
Which only the soul understands;
And music beyond the sounds we make.
There is such peace here.
It is not the peace the storm became.
It is only itself and it eases all the heartache in my life.
I saw such beauty in a field of hay
Across the shoulders of the men at work
And smelled the earthy sunshine flecked with may
And watched the early evening shadows lurk
Behind the dry stonewalls and stands of pine.
The women came and steaming mugs of tea
Slaked thirsty souls and Ayrshires in a line
Walked on for milking – flicked their tails at me.
It was not fussy like a painted scene
But sturdy like a ploughman’s weathered arm
And what it was with years of what had been
Well worn, enduring on the family farm.
As if like rabbits running through the grass
Men touched life’s beauty and then let it pass.
8. The Holy Time
In Penniless Porch, I saw a young man
With great dark pools where his eyes ought to be.
He asked me to do whatever I can;
But really he longed for eternity.
I held his hand as the spark of life flew
From the heart of God through mine to his own;
And when there was grace and the Spirit blew
There was peace in the dirt and noise of town.
He took up his flute and played me a song.
It twinkled and shone like an upland stream;
And the horror that hurt him for so long
Fled like a cruel, malevolent dream.
Thus, a plain place where so many men trod
Was joined in love to the Kingdom of God.
That Sunday Morning, at the Parish Church,
She stooped a little in the darkened aisle,
As if the memories weighed her down a bit;
And there before the service, in her mind,
Still clear and forthright after ninety years,
She saw her Bill, so angular and tall;
Just as he was before he went to war.
He used to play at centre half for Wells
And bring her hedgerow flowers and bags of plums.
When they went walking after work was done,
He’d always kiss her when they saw the Tor
And Bess the Border collie, black and white,
All arching back and tongue half hanging out;
Expectant as if half beyond the moon,
So white and distant in the evening sky,
You really could see all they hoped to do;
And then, they heard the thunder of the guns.
A good man Bill, as men once used to be.
She guided him with patient, quiet skill;
And he, well-schooled in ancient country life,
Loved God, his family, football and the King.
She said a prayer with all her heart and soul
And those old words let modern day light in
The quiet corners of her faithful life;
And God, who made the seas and set the hills,
Moved earth and heaven now to do her will.
She sighed a little, smiled and fell asleep,
With plum juice on her blouse; but it would keep.
10. The Gift
The sand blew hard that night in Bethlehem
And in the cave the Holy Family slept
As if the sullen sound of soldiers’ feet
Was far away beyond the snowy wind.
The straw was fresh; the donkeys made it warm;
And if a bright star lit the Eastern sky,
Then they were safer and their feet were dry.
They’d softly said the ancient Jewish prayers
And eaten hommus, pitta bread and cheese,
With plates of cucumber and aubergine,
Until the harshness of the lengthy ride
Retired a little from their new found peace.
Then, after sleep they woke and shepherds came,
With strong, rough hands and tales of angels heard;
And they, not drunk, were awe-struck by the sound,
Which turned rough pasture into holy ground.
They were the working men of all the world
These shepherds; and the wise men were the great.
They bowed, quite still, before the little child
And in his eyes they saw such wisdom there.
So they, all flustered and extremely shy,
Gave gifts to him, who lay as he would die
Upon a shelf of stone and blessed the world.
And we, recession bound, caught up in war,
Began to hope and learned to love once more.