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Posts Tagged "Advent":

Review of ‘Writing On The Word’ by Malcolm Guite

guite advent 001Like the rest of his many fans, I look forward eagerly to publication of the latest poems of everyone’s favourite troubadour. We have not met, but we have corresponded when he allowed me to quote from The Green Man in the guide to St Peter’s Church, Hurstbourne Tarrant. And it pleases me, partly for the sake of symmetry, but chiefly for Malcolm Guite’s fresh insights, to complete the cycle of birth, death and renewal afforded by reading The Green Man and this new book together.

The Revd Malcolm Guite puts it like this in the introduction:

“Advent falls in winter, at the end of the year, in the dark and 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”.

We begin, appropriately, on Advent Sunday, with Christina Rossetti’s poem of that name. Poems for every day follow, right up until 6 January, with William Blake’s The Divine Image. Each page provides a new insight by perhaps the greatest living poet with a Christian sensibility, so, although you will know many of the poems already (including one or two of Malcolm Guite’s own), each page is also a journey of discovery.

Between the first and the second coming, says Guite, “there are many other advents…in our encounters with the poor and the stranger, in the mystery of the sacraments, in those unexpected moments of transfiguration surely there is also an advent and Christ comes to us. Perhaps that is why the other sense we have of the word ‘advent’ is to find it beginning the word ‘adventure’. The knights in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur say to one another, ‘Let us take the adventure that God sends us’, recognizing that the God in whom we live and move and have our being may come and meet us when and where he pleases, and any door we open may be the door to the ‘chapel perilous’. God may send the adventure, but you will find a door to it through Malcolm Guite and this book.


10 December

(pp 40-42)

In drear nighted December John Keats

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne’er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne’er remember
Apollo’s summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would ’twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

…Keats’ felicitous phrase ‘drear nighted December’, sums up the way many people feel in the dreary darkness of encroaching winter. But, much as I love his poetry, I think in this case Keats is wrong about the tree. Indeed it is just because those bleak, rain-lashed December branches do ‘remember their green felicity’, and retain, hidden within themselves, the patterns and energy of their former green-ness, that they will unfold into leaf again in spring and be able, as Larkin said, of trees in May, to ‘begin afresh, afresh, afresh’.

It can be the same with us: we manage to get through the winter, and also perhaps the severer seasons of the heart, because we carry the memories of spring; we are sustained by a kind of parley between memory and hope. So George Herbert, trying to cope with severe experiences of depression and loss, writes in his poem ‘The Flower‘:

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

But Herbert knew, even in the depths of winter, that

Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.

And so in that great poem of recovery he writes:

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live…

And what about us? We too, in ‘drear nighted December’, need to remember our ‘green felicity’, and surely that is just what we do in Advent, and in the whole approach to and celebration of Christmas. In the darkest time of the year Christ, the life within us and the seed of light, is sown. The root of Jesse, the stock of that true vine from which we all spring, is planted in our hearts, just when our hearts may feel at their darkest and most ploughed up. So through the dark days of Advent I pray for him to come so deeply and quietly into our hearts that, as Lancelot Andrewes said, ‘He may with one word make all green again’.

Waiting On The Word: A poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany

is published by Canterbury Press on 31 August 2015, but advance copies are available.


Author(s): Malcolm Guite

ISBN-13: 9781848258006


For every day from Advent Sunday to Christmas Day and beyond, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it. A scholar of poetry as well as a renowned poet himself, his knowledge is deep and wide and he offers readers a soul-food feast for Advent.

Among the classic writers he includes are: George Herbert, John Donne, Milton, Tennyson,and Christina Rossetti,as well as contemporary poets like Scott Cairns, Luci Shaw, and Grevel Lindop. He also includes a selection of his own highly praised work.

Author Information

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge. A performance poet and singer/songwriter, he lectures widely on poetry and theology in Britain and the US and has a large following on his website,



“Beginnings And Endings [and what happens in between]”: Maggi Dawn

Advent 001


Advent marks the beginning of the Church year and a time of preparation for the celebration of the coming of Christ into the world. It marks the beginning of the Christian era in the birth of Christ, and it looks further back to ancient roots in the lives of the patriarchs, in the earliest human stories of Adam and Eve, and into the timeless eternity of our beginnings in God. So there is an obvious connection between Advent and beginnings.

Advent is also about endings, though, because it anticipates the second coming of Christ. In Christian belief, this idea symbolises the end of the present era and the fulfilment of the kingdom of God. It’s a clearly held hope within the Christian faith, yet at the same time, like all future hopes, it is shrouded in mystery because precisely what the hope means in reality is as yet hidden from us. Here, too, the Bible tantalises us with promises that cannot be fully understood.

The biblical accounts of beginnings and endings are incomplete, and don’t give us the crystal clarity of factual evidence that we would sometimes like the Bible to deliver. But this does not indicate that they have no meaning for us. Even science and rational thought, in which we invest so much trust, cannot give us a full account of our beginnings, and the prediction of the end is even more a matter of conjecture and likelihood. The Bible is neither a scientific manual, nor a magical book of fortune-telling. It does not aim to explain science or to predict the future; rather, it give us stories, histories, songs, experience and spiritual meditations to aid us as we make sense of the lives we live and the world we inhabit.

The biblical accounts of beginnings and endings tell us that the Christian faith is a journey that starts somewhere and goes somewhere. It’s a journey that develops through time, rather than simply going round and round in an endlessly repeating cycle. The season of Advent, too, reminds us that we come from somewhere and we are going somewhere, and thinking about beginnings and endings helps us to rediscover meaning and purpose as we live in these times that are ‘in between’.

There have been periods in history when the Christian hope of a second coming and an afterlife has been used to mollify people instead of addressing issues of justice, or even to frighten Christians into submission. It is healthier to understand our faith as an anchor to the present and a way of discovering the possibility of living in freedom and enjoying depth and abundance in our life now. We do not live in the past and neither do we want to hasten our own end.

The opening section of this book deals with ‘beginnings’, looking at how the Gospel writers and the writers of the Genesis accounts reveal their ideas about where our story begins. The following sections touch on each of the themes symbolised by the candles of an Advent wreath—the patriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Each of these themes marks a stage, a new beginning, in the story of salvation, and each of these looks toward the ending in a fresh way.

In between, we shall pause to consider ‘angels and announcements’. The nativity stories are renowned for the appearance of angels announcing new beginnings. This section connects these up with some older stories about angels and offers  some meditations on how we hear God’s voice and how we respond to the call to new beginnings in our own lives.

The holy family themselves become the focus of our readings in the first week of Christmas. As we look back on their story, we see how it dramatically marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. Yet, as they themselves lived through it, it was as much a time in-between as our  lives  are now. This family has much to teach us about the meeting of heaven and earth, the extraordinary and the ordinary, within everyday life.

Finally we will look at endings in the Bible, although (and I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler!) we shall discover that as the Christian faith is built on the hope of resurrection, endings are always new beginnings.

I invite you to join me in this meditation on Beginnings and Endings this Advent. It has been a real  pleasure to write on a theme that seems to open up new depths every year, and I hope that you will enjoy these meditations as much as I have enjoyed writing them. I wish you a happy Advent.

Yes I know. Tomorrow is the second Sunday before Advent. But I wanted to put this up in plenty of time to allow you to take the first step in accepting  this invitation from the Revd Maggi Dawn, that is to say buying her book. If you think the paper version may not reach you in time, there is also a PDF which you can download. Pam Webster is hosting an online Advent book club to discuss ‘Beginnings and Endings’. Sara Batts, one of my fellow judges at #cnmac13, is joining in, as is the Revd Claire Maxim. And I hope readers of Lay Anglicana will also want to contribute. There is a Facebook page, which Pam has just started. See you there?

Thought for Third Sunday of Advent: Why Are We Waiting?

We Wait, And We Wait, And We…

Waiting rooms, forming a queue, getting in line, waiting for the bus, waiting for time to pass, waiting for something to turn up, God’s Waiting Rooms – the human race has learned to organise the time it has to spend waiting, but that doesn’t mean it likes it. An element of impatience creeps in. Sometimes this erupts into the chant – ironically sung rather untunefully to a Christmas carol – of ‘Why Are We Waiting?’

‘Access takes the waiting out of wanting’

As Archbishop Rowan pointed out in 2008,

…one of the most important and significant times in the Church’s year – a time of waiting, we sometimes say. “But once we’ve said waiting, of course that’s not a very attractive word. We’re not a culture that’s very used to waiting.” He said the advertising slogan once used by the credit card Access – “take the waiting out of wanting” – illustrates how many people want to possess things the minute they decide they want them, whereas waiting is seen as passive and boring.

And trying to organise a whole economy around the idea that paying for things ‘on the never never‘ was the done thing to do led to the international financial crisis that we are still not finished with.

So What Are We Waiting For?

A non-Christian friend asked me on November 25th when I was planning to put up my Christmas decorations, rather smugly adding that she had bought her Christmas presents, got her decorations up and was all ready for the big day. To her mystification, I told her that ideally I would put up my decorations on Christmas Eve, but would  probably advance that by about a week for practical reasons. I asked what it was she was celebrating – her answer was ‘Christmas, of course! You know, Santa Claus, stockings, the tree, turkey and mince pies – it’s for the children really’.

I pondered to myself on how one could celebrate something which has all the adornments but no core, no centre. I could understand it if my friend had said she was celebrating the winter solstice, but she – in common with who knows how many others – really believes herself to be celebrating Christmas, but without the Christ Child.

It’s Worth The Wait

But if our core, our centre, is Christ-shaped – or if we would like it to be so – waiting for the Incarnation is part of the joy. Some people rip open their Christmas presents, each in their own self-contained universe, and this part of Christmas is over in a trice. Others give out one present at a time, with everyone watching as the present is unwrapped and sharing in the pleasure of giving and receiving. Advent is surely a bit like that. Because we treasure our gift from God, we need to spend time preparing and making ourselves ready for His arrival; it is not a separate activity, it is part of receiving the gift.

Ann Lewin’s Kingfisher

Waiting for the arrival of the Christ child is rather like Ann Lewin’s metaphor for prayer. To paraphrase:

Advent is like watching for the
All you can do is
Be where he is likely to appear, and
Often, nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and
No visible sign, only the
Knowledge that he’s been there
And may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared.
But when you’ve almost stopped
Expecting it, a flash of brightness
Gives encouragement.

And Is It True?

You all know this poem, but it says much better than I can why we wait joyfully each year in Advent :

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

This post is based on one originally written for The Big Bible Project as a Digidisciple.

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