Read & Recommended - SOUNDING THE SEASONS by Malcolm Guite
Not a book to read through quickly but one to return to as the season changes. The book is a series of seventy sonnets that take us on a pilgrimage from Advent to the Feast of Christ the King, including a sonnet for each of the 'O' Antiphons, for each of the Stations of the Cross, and for some of the major saint's days. Quite a few poets, song writers, literary critics and priests, and one former Archbishop of Canterbury, have agreed that these offerings are both very original and yet firmly rooted in the Christian Tradition and so open up to new resonances.
I have recommended this book to many friends and quoted from them in sermons and in newsletters and they are always enthusiastically received. Perhaps, just reading fourteen lines, that manage each time to hit a thread of gold, is a more welcome challenge than ploughing through a long or obtuse poem - where an explanation is often needed.
The great advantage of the sonnet form is that it is short enough to be read aloud and the meaning held. My favourite liturgical use is to use them as a reflection before Compline - reading them aloud, but giving everyone a copy and then having a time of silence for the listener to respond for themselves.
Malcolm Guise hopes that in some small way he has helped to bring poetry back from just being a personal encounter to a public celebration of truths and mysteries to which everyone can have access. I think he achieves his aim.
Impulsive master of misunderstanding
You comfort me with all your big mistakes;
Jumping the ship before you make the landing.
Placing the bet before you know the stakes.
I love the way you step out without knowing,
The way you sometimes speak before you think,
The way your broken faith is always growing,
The way he holds you when you sink.
Born to a world that always tried to shame you,
Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,
I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,
Before you knew how to deserve that name.
And in the end your Saviour let you prove
That each denial is undone by love.
For more extracts from this book and the author's other work, visit his website:
Sounding the Seasons - published by Canterbury Press in November 2012
Paperback £9.99 ISBN-13: 9781848252745
Reviewed by Fr Colin Sutton
Read & Recommended - THE ADVENT CANDLE by Gill Rabjohns
It is always a pleasure to receive a new book from Gill Rabjohns and this volume is no exception. It is beautifully illustrated by Helen Jones and will make an excellent aid to families keeping Advent together. Indeed, that is really the theme of the book, that we as families (be it the family unit in the home, or the gathered church family helping and caring for one another) should ensure that the seasons of the church are properly kept and marked.
I would suggest that a church selling or giving these books out also supplies an Advent candle that can be lit and burn whilst the story or part of the story is being read. Once you have finished ‘The Advent Candle’ then the family can move on to reading the story of Christ’s birth. This could also easily be done by those who live alone and might help in reaching out to the housebound.
The Advent Candle - Order from Credo Cymru, 40 Cwmgelli Close, Treboeth, Swansea SA5 9BY
Reviewed by Fr Philip Corbett
The story is a simple one about a candle bought by a family, the candle maker who will be alone at Christmas, and the story of the birth of Christ. It is beautifully told and the biblical narrative, which is revealed to the children through the light of the candle, is woven into the narrative in an easy to understand way. The final gift that Mr Biggs brings to the Gates Family is a carved Christmas Crib. A firm reminder that Christ must be at the centre of our Christmas celebrations and that no matter what we have or who are that is the most important thing. It also serves as a reminder that we are called to share the Christmas story with others and to see our family as being all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Children and adults alike will enjoy the story of the Advent Candle and it will encourage people to think about the true meaning of Christmas and also about keeping Christmas and Advent traditions that help deepen their faith and that of those around them. Just as at the end of the story young Ben invites Mr Biggs to be with the family for Christmas day I encourage you to have ‘The Advent Candle’ as your companion this Advent and an Advent candle in your home to help light the way to Christ.
Read & Recommended - WAITING ON THE WORD by Malcolm Guite
Waiting on the Word - published by Canterbury Press in August 2015
Paperback £10.99 ISBN-13: 9781848258006
Finally, his last aim is to: ‘help restore that quietness, that inner peace, that willingness to wait unfulfilled in the dark, in the midst of a season that conspires to do nothing but fling bling and tinsel at us right through December. I hope that readers will feel that they are joining me in what is a profoundly counter-cultural and indeed subversive act (and one thing that would make it even more counter-cultural would be to have to read these poems aloud and slowly, in defiance of the silent skim-reading that has replaced an older tasting of language). Reclaiming Advent’s rich fast will restore meaning to the even richer feast when Christmas comes.’
I sometimes struggle to get to grips with some poets, but Malcom Guite gives a truly illuminating short commentary on each poem he has chosen. What is left to say – but read a sample, one old one new, and order a copy ready for Advent.
“ Advent is a paradoxical season: a season of waiting and anticipation in which the waiting itself is strangely rich and fulfilling, a season that looks back at the people who waited in darkness for the coming light of Christ and yet forward to a fuller light still to come and illuminate our darkness. Advent falls in winter, at the end of the year, in the dark and the cold, but its focus is on the coming of light and life, when the Ancient of Days becomes a young child and says, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Perhaps only poetry can help us fathom the depths and inhabit the tensions of these paradoxes.”
This is how Malcom Guite introduces his latest anthology.
He seeks to provide a poetic reflection to cover the three great Aspects of Advent: the coming of Christ in humility, the second coming of Christ in majesty and - in between these alpha and omega events – the coming of Christ in our lives. ‘In the encounters with the poor or the stranger, in the mystery of the sacraments, in those unexpected moments of transfiguration – surely there is also an advent as Christ comes to us.’ Bearing in mind all the ways that Christ comes to us – he sees Advent as ‘an adventure that God sends us’; for he may reveal himself as and when he wishes – our work is to be ready and vigilant. Malcolm Guite hopes that the poems he chooses will both link up with the great writers of the past and introduce us to some contemporary poets. The selection doesn’t stop at Advent but goes on into Christmas and Epiphany – the season of fulfilment.
Reviewed by Fr Colin Sutton
For 24th December: Christmas Eve by Christina Rossetti
Christmas hath darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.
Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all the Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.
For 28th December: Refugee by Malcolm Guite
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,
And death squads spread their curse across the world.
But every Herod dies, and comes alone
To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.
The Revd Dr Malcolm Guite is Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge. He lectures widely on poetry and theology both in the UK and the USA. The short video below (lasting under 10 minutes) is worth watching - it gives additional information from the author at the launch of his book.
Read & Recommended - I AM WITH YOU by Kathryn Greene-McCreight
I found plenty of original and interesting writing in these reflections. If the quotes below challenge and stimulate your thinking, then why not get the book.
Suggested by Fr Colin Sutton
1. The Beatitudes teach the upside-down-ness of the cruciform life.
The Cross exposes us to what it means to be truly human: to be vulnerable.
It shows us that we are not on our own. It shows us that we are, like our Lord, with others and for others. It points us to the glory of the incarnate God who did for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
And in our own corner, this is what our Lenten disciplines can do for us. They strip us bare so that we may be clothed with Christ. They are to empty us so that we may be filled by his love. They are to weaken us so that we may bear in strength the word of reconciliation and peace. Our fears that make us draw back from the self-emptying can be calmed only by Christ’s love.
2. We prepare ourselves during Lent for the light of Easter, a light so strong that it may blind our eyes rather than simply illuminate our path.
Here is the rub:the Christian faith is not a project to be constructed.It is a life to be lived. It is not a concept. It is a relationship. Our objections to innocent suffering are and should be many. These objections are fully acceptable and expected in the sight of God.
But as we look on human suffering, Christians behold the words of the crucified Christ. And Christians cannot behold Christ and his words apart from hearing the promise of the risen Christ: “I am with you always”.
3. The Christian life is one long stretching forward toward the presence of God, when darkness will be vanquished, when sorrow will be no more. Paul says, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus”. (Phil. 3.14) God’s promises lead the Christians forward into the future. This is the essence of Christian hope. It looks beyond the Cross, out of the empty tomb, and toward the horizon of Jesus’ return in glory. Then will God be unrestrainedly present in light peace and joy.
4. Jesus is the present tense, the one who is. (I am who I am)
Jesus is the past tense, the one who was. (in the beginning was the Word ….)
Jesus is the future tense, the one who is to come. (I am with you always to the end)
Being in the presence of Jesus in our worship is all of these moments together at once: past, present, and future. Being in Jesus’ presence brings us eternal life.
I Am With You - published by Bloomsbury Press in December 2015
Paperback RRP: £9.99 ISBN-9781472915252
Introduction by the Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Read & Recommended - THE WORKSHOP WITHIN written and illustrated by George Bennett
Father George Bennett’s meditations demonstrate in verse form the Ignation concept of God being active in our world.
The first section concentrates on the human life of Jesus. Here is shown His childhood and the influence of His mother as well as His work in the carpenter’s shop. The homely touch is shown in events such as the wedding in Cana seen from the eyes of one of the guests. This is not mere picture painting. The verses demonstrate the extraordinary nature of Jesus’ work and His effect on people. He stood out even then.
The second section moves outwards into the ministry of Jesus reaching out from the everyday scenes to the more widespread teaching, emphasising the carrying out of the second great commandment. Here we read of Jesus encounters with people such as the water carrier and then the woman at the well and his influence on them. The verses move on to the end of Jesus’ life from the Garden of Gethsemane to the cross. However, they are not separate sections and the wood and nails of the cross are linked to the remembrance of the carpenter’s shop and there are echoes of His childhood in the comparison of his first drink at Mary’s breast with the bitter wine given at the crucifixion.
The third section in the book demonstrates the broadening out of that ministry to the whole world ranging from the drinks man to the flower seller in Mexico.
Throughout this book the detailed nature of the imagery and the evocative choice of words and pictures of everyday life brings the reader into the immediacy of the moment transporting us as Bishop John says: "... into the very situation which these words are placed to reflect”
I would like to read more of Father Bennett’s meditations, but I wonder if these would be even more powerful if they took the form of prose. Very occasionally I feel that the use of rhyme constrains the opening out of the thought.
However, In the words of the 17th century poet Richard Crashaw these verses certainly succeed in Father Bennett’s aim to bring “Earth to Heaven stoops Heaven to earth.”
The Workshop Within - Verse Meditations - published October 2015
Forward by the Right Revd John Davies, Bishop of Swansea and Brecon.
Paperback £5.00 : available directly from the author £6.50 inc P&P.
St Peter's Vicarage, Mary Twill Lane, Newton, Swansea SA3 4RB
About the author: Fr George Bennett is Vicar of St Peter's, Newton in Swansea. Having read history at Aberystwyth, he studied for the ministry at St Stephen's House, Oxford. Canon Residentiary and Chancellor of Brecon Cathedral, he is also Bishop's Officer for Retreats and Spritual Direction. He is married to Rhona, a retired teacher.
The Lord and his prayer is a jewel of a book. Because we pray the Lord’s prayer so often, every now and then we need to slow down and consider what it is that Jesus has given us. Gifts are easily taken for granted – special gifts remain special only for a while if we use them frequently – unless we look at them and think what they are saying.
We may be given the ‘free gift’ of the Lord’s prayer early in our lives but it will take the whole of our lives to live the prayer rather than just say it.
This book is one of the clearest, most challenging books on how to live in response to the prayer. Just to give you a taste :
‘ For us to call God Our Father
is the great act of faith;
it is to live dangerously, at risk,
because it means responding to God’s
It means seeking to align and realign ourselves with both the comfortable and uncomfortable teaching of Christ, and to embrace the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection for our own lives.
To pray ‘Our Father …. hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done …..’ is to pray that the whole world may be freed from injustice, sin and endless death. We are praying that Christ will bring the victory of Calvary and Easter to bear on the whole of creation.
So prayer to our Heavenly Father is not an attempt to escape into a safe haven, nor is it the desire to get in touch with our deepest needs, or develop some kind of tremendously-fit spiritual life; but being willing to hold up the needs of the world before the God and Father of us all and mean it when we say – ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’. In the end we pray the prayer – through Christ – because it is only through his saving grace that we can stand before God.
Surely enough said – the rest is all in the book!
The Lord and His Prayer - by N T Wright
published May 2014
Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co - ISBN 978-0-8028-7177-0
About the author: Tom Wright (The Rt Revd Nicholas Thomas Wright) is Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews. Having read literae humaniores (or 'classics') at Exeter College, Oxford, he studied for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall. A one time Chaplain at Downing College, Cambridge, he was Dean of Lichfield for five years before becoming Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey in 2000. After consecration in 2003, he became Bishop of Durham: retiring from the See seven years later in August 2010.
Bishop Wright has published numerous works - in one of his most popular, 'Surprised by Hope' he outlines the scriptural emphasis on resurrection as the blessed hope of all Christians.
Read & Recommended THE LORD AND HIS PRAYER - by N. T. WRIGHT
Reviewed by Fr Colin Sutton