Category : Poetry & Literature

Harriet Beecher Stowe on her Feast Day

Have not many of us, in the weary way of life, felt, in some hours, how far easier it were to die than to live?

The martyr, when faced even by a death of bodily anguish and horror, finds in the very terror of his doom a strong stimulant and tonic. There is a vivid excitement, a thrill and fervor, which may carry through any crisis of suffering that is the birth-hour of eternal glory and rest.

But to live,–to wear on, day after day, of mean, bitter, low, harassing servitude, every nerve dampened and depressed, every power of feeling gradually smothered,–this long and wasting heart-martyrdom, this slow, daily bleeding away of the inward life, drop by drop, hour after hour,–this is the true searching test of what there may be in man or woman.

When Tom stood face to face with his persecutor, and heard his threats, and thought in his very soul that his hour was come, his heart swelled bravely in him, and he thought he could bear torture and fire, bear anything, with the vision of Jesus and heaven but just a step beyond; but, when he was gone, and the present excitement passed off, came back the pain of his bruised and weary limbs,–came back the sense of his utterly degraded, hopeless, forlorn estate; and the day passed wearily enough.

Long before his wounds were healed, Legree insisted that he should be put to the regular field-work; and then came day after day of pain and weariness, aggravated by every kind of injustice and indignity that the ill-will of a mean and malicious mind could devise. Whoever, in our circumstances, has made trial of pain, even with all the alleviations which, for us, usually attend it, must know the irritation that comes with it. Tom no longer wondered at the habitual surliness of his associates; nay, he found the placid, sunny temper, which had been the habitude of his life, broken in on, and sorely strained, by the inroads of the same thing. He had flattered himself on leisure to read his Bible; but there was no such thing as leisure there. In the height of the season, Legree did not hesitate to press all his hands through, Sundays and week-days alike. Why shouldn’t he?””he made more cotton by it, and gained his wager; and if it wore out a few more hands, he could buy better ones. At first, Tom used to read a verse or two of his Bible, by the flicker of the fire, after he had returned from his daily toil; but, after the cruel treatment he received, he used to come home so exhausted, that his head swam and his eyes failed when he tried to read; and he was fain to stretch himself down, with the others, in utter exhaustion.

Is it strange that the religious peace and trust, which had upborne him hitherto, should give way to tossings of soul and despondent darkness? The gloomiest problem of this mysterious life was constantly before his eyes, souls crushed and ruined, evil triumphant, and God silent. It was weeks and months that Tom wrestled, in his own soul, in darkness and sorrow. He thought of Miss Ophelia’s letter to his Kentucky friends, and would pray earnestly that God would send him deliverance. And then he would watch, day after day, in the vague hope of seeing somebody sent to redeem him; and, when nobody came, he would crush back to his soul bitter thoughts,that it was vain to serve God, that God had forgotten him. He sometimes saw Cassy; and sometimes, when summoned to the house, caught a glimpse of the dejected form of Emmeline, but held very little communion with either; in fact, there was no time for him to commune with anybody.

–Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Posted in History, Poetry & Literature, Race/Race Relations

Poetry for Pentecost–Suddenly by R S Thomas

From here:

Suddenly after long silence
he has become voluble.
He addresses me from a myriad
directions with fluency
of water, the articulateness
of green leaves: and in the genes,
too, the components
of my existence. The rock,
so long speechless, is the library
of his poetry. He sings to me
in the chain-saw, writes
with the surgeon’s hand
on the skin’s parchment messages
of healing. The weather
is his mind’s turbine
driving the earth’s bulk round
and around on its remedial
journey. I have no need
to despair; as at
some second Pentecost
of a Gentile, I listen to the things
round me: weeds, stones, instruments,
the machine itself, all
speaking to me in the vernacular
of the purposes of one who is.

Posted in Pentecost, Poetry & Literature

JRR Tolkien on why the Gospel is like unto but Better than a Fairy Tale

Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality: hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it. If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary definition: “inner consistency of reality,” it is difficult to conceive how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake of reality. The peculiar quality of the ”joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?” The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): “If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.” That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater — it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter. It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite.

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath. Every fairy tale we tell has at it’s root a core element of the ultimate story but the thing which makes the gospel so compelling is that it like a fairy tale sounds too good to be true but unlike a fairy tale is true.

“It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien on Fairy Stories, cited by yours truly on this past Sunday’s Pentecost sermon.

Posted in Church History, Pentecost, Poetry & Literature, Theology

More Poetry for Memorial Day: Tomas Tranströmer’s The Half-Finished Heaven

From here:

Despondency breaks off its course.
Anguish breaks off its course.
The vulture breaks off its flight.

The eager light streams out,
even the ghosts take a draught.

And our paintings see daylight,
our red beasts of the ice-age studios.
Everything begins to look around.
We walk in the sun in hundreds.

Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

The endless ground under us.

The water is shining among the trees.

The lake is a window into the earth.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature, Sweden

More Poetry for Memorial Day–Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

In Flanders Fields for Memorial Day 2022

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

–Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

In thanksgiving for all those who gave their lives for this country in years past, and for those who continue to serve; KSH.

P.S. The circumstances which led to this remarkable poem are well worth remembering:

It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915 and to the war in general. McCrea had spent seventeen days treating injured men — Canadians, British, French, and Germans in the Ypres salient. McCrae later wrote: “I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days… Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done.” The next day McCrae witnessed the burial of a good friend, Lieut. Alexis Helmer. Later that day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the field dressing station, McCrea composed the poem. A young NCO, delivering mail, watched him write it. When McCrae finished writing, he took his mail from the soldier and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the Sergeant-major. Cyril Allinson was moved by what he read: “The poem was exactly an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word blow in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene.” Colonel McCrae was dissatisfied with the poem, and tossed it away. A fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator, in London, rejected it, but Punch published it on 8 December 1915. For his contributions as a surgeon, the main street in Wimereaux is named “Rue McCrae”.

Posted in Canada, Death / Burial / Funerals, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

Christ the Bird and the Play of Hope: An Anglo-Saxon Poem for the Feast of the Ascension

One thing this poem does have in common with the ‘Advent lyrics’ of Christ I is that it’s an extraordinarily sophisticated theological meditation on its Biblical theme, rendered in the traditional language of Anglo-Saxon poetry but drawing on learned interpretations of the subject by the Church Fathers. The poem begins by describing the delight of the angels at Christ’s return to heaven, contrasting their joy with the grief of the disciples at parting from Christ, and giving his words of comfort to his followers:…

“Rejoice in your hearts! I will never leave you;
I will always remain with you in love,
and give you strength and dwell with you
for ever and ever, so that through my grace
you will never want for anything good…
I will dwell with you
from henceforth as a comforter, and keep you in peace,
a steadfast strength in every place.”

Posted in Ascension, Church History, Poetry & Literature

(NYT) Ada Limón Makes Poems for a Living

In her most recent book, she said, she was interested in things that can go on without her — the book has four sections, each named for a season.

The collection is dedicated to her stepfather, Brady T. Brady, who is one of her early readers, along with a small group of poets including Jennifer L. Knox and Matthew Zapruder. Brady went from high school to fighting in the infantry in Vietnam, and never studied poetry. But his guidance of her writing has been valuable since she was a child, Limón said. Once, when she was 15, she called him at work to read a poem she’d written.

“I started reading it in this very poetic voice, and he was like: ‘Wait, no,’” she said. “‘Just read it to me like you’re telling me something.’ And I read it that way, in my natural voice, and then he could hear it.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Language, Poetry & Literature

(CT Pastors) Ryan Diaz–Wendell Berry Taught Me to Preach

“Live a three-dimensioned life.”

There is nothing worse than preaching disconnected from everyday life. Theological abstractions do very little for the thirsty souls in our pews, and any theology disconnected from life, story, and place are antithetical to the Incarnation. Jesus’ incarnation is not just the taking on of human shape but rather is Jesus’ full entrance into the state of human affairs through which the eternal Word makes himself present in time and space (John 1:14).

Our preparation and our preaching need to be rooted in a “three-dimensioned” life. Our preaching must drink from the well of story and place, a fount that feeds and is fed by the local congregations we serve. The apostle Paul did his theology within the context of local communities. His articulation of eternal truth was flavored and shaped by the soil in which it was planted. This doesn’t mean that the temporal trumps the eternal; instead, it is an invitation to anchor the infinite in a local habitation, a space where the gospel intersects with daily life.

I started writing sermons in coffee shops when my wife and I first got married and lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn. What began as a practical decision eventually led to a profound spiritual practice. The gossip at the table across the room, the community board filled with flyers, and the brief chat with the barista all help remind me who these messages are for. By beginning our preparation in the presence of people, we start to write for them and not ourselves. We learn to see the gospel at work in places and ways we could never have imagined locked up in our studies.

Read it all.

Posted in Language, Ministry of the Ordained, Poetry & Literature, Preaching / Homiletics, Religion & Culture

For her Feast Day–Up-Hill from Christian Rossetti

From there:

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.

Posted in Church History, History, Poetry & Literature

Resurrection by John Donne

From here:

Moist with one drop of thy blood, my dry soul
Shall (though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly,) be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard, or foul,
And life, by this death abled, shall control
Death, whom thy death slew; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death, bring misery,
If in thy little book my name thou enrol,
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrefied,
But made that there, of which, and for which ’twas;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sin’s sleep, and death’s soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last, and everlasting day.

Posted in Church History, Easter, Poetry & Literature

An Easter Carol

Tomb, thou shalt not hold Him longer;
Death is strong, but Life is stronger;
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right.
Faith and Hope triumphant say,
Christ will rise on Easter-Day.

While the patient earth lies waking,
Till the morning shall be breaking,
Shuddering ‘neath the burden dread
Of her Master, cold and dead,
Hark! she hears the angels say,
Christ will rise on Easter-Day.
And when sunrise smites the mountains,
Pouring light from heavenly fountains,
Then the earth blooms out to greet
Once again the blessed feet;
And her countless voices say,
Christ has risen on Easter-Day.

Up and down our lives obedient
Walk, dear Christ, with footsteps radiant,
Till those garden lives shall be
Fair with duties done for Thee;
And our thankful spirits say,
Christ arose on Easter-Day.

–Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)

Posted in Church History, Easter, Music, Poetry & Literature

R S Thomas “The Answer” for Easter

From there:

Not darkness but twilight
In which even the best
of minds must make its way
now. And slowly the questions
occur, vague but formidable
for all that. We pass our hands
over their surface like blind
men feeling for the mechanism
that will swing them aside. They
yield, but only to re-form
as new problems; and one
does not even do that
but towers immovable
before us.

Is there no way
of other thought of answering
its challenge? There is an anticipation
of it to the point of
dying. There have been times
when, after long on my knees
in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled
from my mind, and I have looked
in and seen the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the piled
graveclothes of love’s risen body.

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

JRR Tolkien for Easter–Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?

Sam believes that Gandalf has fallen a catastrophic distance and has died. But in the end of the story, with Sam having been asleep for a long while and then beginning to regain consciousness, Gandalf stands before Sam, robed in white, his face glistening in the sunlight, and says:

“Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?”

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”

“A great shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from bed… “How do I feel?” he cried.” Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel” –he waved his arms in the air– “I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!”

— J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), The Return of the King

Posted in Easter, Eschatology, Poetry & Literature, Theology

Easter by George Herbert

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delayes,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined1 thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.

Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The crosse taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.

Read it all.

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

Gerard Manley Hopkins for Easter–Gather gladness from the skies

Gather gladness from the skies;
Take a lesson from the ground;
Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes
And a Spring-time joy have found;
Earth throws Winter’s robes away,
Decks herself for Easter Day.

Beauty now for ashes wear,
Perfumes for the garb of woe.
Chaplets for disheveled hair,
Dances for sad footsteps slow;
Open wide your hearts that they
Let in joy this Easter Day.

Seek God’s house in happy throng;
Crowded let His table be;
Mingle praises, prayer and song,
Singing to the Trinity.
Henceforth let your souls alway
Make each morn an Easter Day.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Easter, Poetry & Literature

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that pierced died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not paper-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

–John Updike (1932-2009)

Posted in Holy Week, Poetry & Literature, Theology

Poetry for Easter–Resurrection by RS Thomas

Posted in Easter, Poetry & Literature

Easter Night

All night had shout of men, and cry
Of woeful women filled His way;
Until that noon of sombre sky
On Friday, clamour and display
Smote Him; no solitude had He,
No silence, since Gethsemane.

Public was Death; but Power, but Might,
But Life again, but Victory,
Were hushed within the dead of night,
The shutter’d dark, the secrecy.
And all alone, alone, alone,
He rose again behind the stone.

–Alice Meynell (1847-1922)

Posted in Holy Week, Poetry & Literature

Eleanor Parker–One of the most moving medieval poems about the Crucifixion

“Mother, now I may you say:
Better that I alone should die
Than all mankind should go to hell.”
“Son, I see your body swung,
Your breast, your hand, your foot through-stung; [pierced]
No wonder that I mourn!”

“Mother, if I dare you tell,
If I die not, you will go to hell;
I suffer this death for your sake.”
“Son, you are so meek and kind;
Blame me not, it is my kind [nature]
That I for you this sorrow make.”

“Mother, have mercy! let me die,
Adam out of hell to buy
And all mankind that is forlorn!”
“Son, what would you have me do?
Your pain pains me to death;
Let me die before you.”

“Mother, now you may well learn
What pain they endure who children bear,
What sorrow they have who children lose.”
“Son, indeed, I can you tell,
No sorrow but the pain of hell
Is greater than to suffer so!”

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Holy Week, Poetry & Literature

How shall I measure out thy bloud?

O My chief good,
How shall I measure out thy bloud?
How shall I count what thee befell,
And each grief tell?

Shall I thy woes
Number according to thy foes?
Or, since one starre show’d thy first breath,
Shall all thy death?

Or shall each leaf,
Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?
Or can not leaves, but fruit, be signe
Of the true vine?

Then let each houre
Of my whole life one grief devoure;
That thy distresse through all may runne,
And be my sunne.
Or rather let
My severall sinnes their sorrows get;
That as each beast his cure doth know,
Each sinne may so.

Since bloud is fittest, Lord, to write
Thy sorrows in, and bloudie fight;
My heart hath store, write there, where in
One box doth lie both ink and sinne:

That when sinne spies so many foes,
Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,
All come to lodge there, sinne may say,
No room for me, and flie away.

Sinne being gone, oh fill the place,
And keep possession with thy grace;
Lest sinne take courage and return,
And all the writings blot or burn.

–George Herbert (1593-1633)

Posted in Holy Week, Poetry & Literature

John Donne–Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward

This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I’almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc’d with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag’d, and torne?

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Holy Week, Poetry & Literature

Saint Peter

St. Peter once: ‘Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?’-
Much more I say: Lord, dost Thou stand and knock
At my closed heart more rugged than a rock,
Bolted and barred, for Thy soft touch unmeet,
Nor garnished nor in any wise made sweet?
Owls roost within and dancing satyrs mock.
Lord, I have heard the crowing of the cock
And have not wept: ah, Lord, thou knowest it.
Yet still I hear Thee knocking, still I hear:
‘Open to Me, look on Me eye to eye,
That I may wring thy heart and make it whole;
And teach thee love because I hold thee dear
And sup with thee in gladness soul with soul
And sup with thee in glory by and by.’

–Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Posted in Holy Week, Poetry & Literature, Theology: Scripture

G K Chesterton’s The Donkey for Holy Week

Posted in Holy Week, Poetry & Literature

R S Thomas’ The Coming for Holy Week

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, A river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

Read it all.

Posted in --Ireland, Holy Week, Language, Poetry & Literature

(CH) John Donne–Thanksgiving in the Midst of Fear

These poems speak, as [Philip] Yancey says, to “the guilt and fear and helpless faith that marked [Donne’s] darkest days.” They also answer one of the toughest questions we can face, “In the midst of plague times, how can we give thanks?”

Here are the three poems excerpted by Yancey, with his clarifying revisions of Donne’s eighteenth-century language…

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Poetry & Literature, Theology

Eleanor Parker for the Annuncation–‘Our Lady’s Lay’

Today is the feast of the Annunciation, or ‘Lady Day in Lent’, as it was known in the Middle Ages. As I explored last year, the medieval church considered 25 March to be the single most important date in history: it was both the beginning and the end of Christ’s life on earth, the date of his conception at the Annunciation and his death on Good Friday. To underline the harmony and purpose which, in the eyes of medieval Christians, shaped the divinely-written narrative of the history of the world, 25 March was also said to be the date of other significant events: the eighth day of Creation, the crossing of the Red Sea, the sacrifice of Isaac, and other days linked with or prefiguring the story of the world’s fall and redemption. The date occurs at a conjunction of solar, lunar, and natural cycles: all these events were understood to have happened in the spring, when life returns to the earth, and at the vernal equinox, once the days begin to grow longer than the nights and light triumphs over the power of darkness. The resonances of 25 March reached even unto Middle Earth, as Tolkien aligned the downfall of the Ring to this most auspicious of dates.

‘Lady Day in Lent’ is the springtime feast of the Virgin Mary, one of several ‘lady days’ which marked the seasons of the medieval year. There is a vast amount of medieval poetry and art on the theme of the Annunciation, more than you could read or look at in a lifetime, and much of it is exquisite: I’ve posted some of my own favourites under this tag. Over and over again, through many centuries, thousands of poets and artists have tried to imagine this scene, where heaven and earth meet and the fate of the universe hangs upon a young woman’s word.

For today, here’s a lovely little poem about the Annunciation by William Herebert, friar and poet, writing in the early 14th century.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Poetry & Literature, Theology

Robert Ellis’ OCMS lecture–Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy: The Pastor and the Suffering God

War broke out in August and in September 1914 Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy wrote these words in his parish magazine:

“I cannot say too strongly that I believe every able-bodied man ought to volunteer for service anywhere. Here ought to be no shirking of that duty.”

This from the man who would, before long be writing this, “Waste”:

“Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health,
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of glory, Waste of God–War!”

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Poetry & Literature, Theology

Poetry for Epiphany: T. S. Eliot – Journey Of The Magi – Alec McCowen

Listen to and ponder it all–more than once.

Posted in Epiphany, Poetry & Literature

Epiphany by John Goodman

How could they have known not to come
On what amounted to pretense? Everything
Their learning held, all their beliefs
Said regal gifts were needful for a king.

The things they brought were left behind,
Doubtless; or maybe traded for bread:
Impecunious Joseph with a family
To feed, a roof to put over his head.

Read it all.

Posted in Epiphany, Poetry & Literature