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Posts Tagged "Poetry":

A Breath of Wind : Chris Fewings

A painting of the supper at Emmaus by Tintoretto

Tintoretto – The Supper at Emmaus, 1543


Friday. Saturday. Sunday.
Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday.
Thursday. Friday. Saturday.

He’d slipped away from us
on a Thursday, and we knew
it wasn’t like the other times –
he wasn’t coming back.
Course, Luke said he’d heard
a voice: stereo, pillars of light:
“He’ll come in the same way.”

Maybe he was right. The Sunday after next
was different. It wasn’t like all the times we’d spent
reminiscing. Cleopas broke some bread;
Miriam’s face was radiant; we shared it,
not just with each other, but with strangers
who’d never met him, and were hungry to hear
about the empty cave.

Trying to explain it in Aramaic
was hard enough; putting it into Greek…
“Empty.” “He was here.” “It was him,
by the side of the lake, teasing us.”

Teasing? Like Galilee again,
the first few weeks – tired, confused,
mocked by those we’d belonged among
for giving up the business, but
deeply, deeply happy, even when we weren’t
guffawing at his jokes,
or laughing with the sudden laughter
of a baby’s who’s dropped and caught.

And then the next day:
the first one who could walk again
when we told the tale.

© 2010

Poussin: St Peter and St John Healing the Lame Man, 1655

See other posts by Chris Fewings on Lay Anglicana

Julian of Norwich: Beyond Torture – Chris Fewings

The quotations from Julian below are edited

Last year I received on my birthday a hazelnut, a traditional crucifix, and a card showing Julian of Norwich, who became in the fourteenth century the first woman to write a book in English. She was a highly original and articulate theologian and visionary, forgotten for centuries but seeming to speak directly from her time to ours.

The crucifix with its tortured Christ seemed at first a very odd gift, especially in the context of Julian of Norwich, who saw not one whit of anger in God. Then I remembered how, as she lay at death’s door at the age of thirty, she had asked for a crucifix to be held before her eyes, and wanted with medieval gruesomeness to experience Christ’s pain.

‘After this I saw the body bleed freely because of the scourging. The fair skin was broken very deep into the tender flesh with sharp blows all about his body. So the hot blood ran out so freely that I could see neither skin nor wound, but as it were all blood.’

She recovered and the visions she had seen and her thoughts on them were written down, going far beyond blood and gore and exploring the motherly love of God, especially in the second book she wrote about twenty years later.

‘I saw that he is to us everything that is good and comforting for us: he is our clothing that wraps us, clasps us, and enfolds us because of his tender love, that he may never leave us; being to us everything that is good.’

* * * * *

‘He shewed me a little thing, the size of an hazelnut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it and thought: What can this be? And the answer came: it is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last: it was tiny it might just have disappeared. And the answer came to mind: it lasts because God loves it.’

Her view of the fall is encapsulated in her vision of a lord sending a servant on a mission:

‘I saw a master and a servant, the master sitting calmly and in peace, the servant standing before his master reverently, ready to do his will. The master looks upon his servant lovingly, and sends him off to do his bidding. The servant not only goes, but starts at once, and runs in great haste, eager to do his master’s will. But then he falls and is badly hurt, and groans and moans and wails and struggles, but he can neither rise nor help himself in any way.

‘I marvelled how this servant might meekly suffer there all this woe, and I looked carefully to learn if I could perceive in him any fault, or if the master should assign him any blame. And in truth there was none, for only his goodwill and his great desire was cause of his falling; he had no hate, and was as good inwardly as when he stood before his master, ready to do his will. His master looked on him with all tenderness and compassion — and I also saw him rejoicing to think of the restoration he would bring his servant by his plentiful grace.

‘Now this courteous master says “Look, look, my beloved servant, what harm and distress he has taken in my service in his eagerness. Is it not fitting that I recompense him for his shock, his hurt, his injury and all his woe? And not only this, but should I not give him a gift that will be better to him than his own wholeness should have been? How else can I thank him?”‘

* * * * *

‘A mother may let her child fall sometimes, and to be hurt in various ways, but she would never allow any real danger to come to the child. And even if our earthly mother let her child perish, our heavenly mother, Jesus, will never allow his children to perish.’

Julian’s writings have been important to me for nearly thirty years. I wrote this short poem last year because in receiving the crucifix I realised that I had skimmed over her close attention to the tortured Christ. She is the voice of the motherly love of God, but she does not shy away from pain and cruelty.


Before she was enfolded and enfolded us
in words that recognise that mothering
is more than something local (a universal
sling holding us to the torso of reality,
as we cry out to our core of being),
she saw the worst that men can do to men
and felt her life suspended. So if you
would like to hold a hazelnut in hand
and know the woods that can enclose you
can be enclosed in a single palm,
don’t shrink away from Amnesty International,
special rendition, fingernails ripped off.
There may be nothing you can do but run on errands
and fall until your ankle’s twisted round.
The mother-king will raise you to herself.

Julian’s feast day is celebrated on 8th May in the Church of England, and 13th May in the Church of Rome. More extracts from her work can be found on Wikiquote. I was introduced to her work by the booklet Enfolded in Love edited by Robert Llewelyn. The photograph (of Norwich Cathedral) is from Wikimedia Commons

Celebrating National Poetry Day: Chris Fewings

Today is national poetry day. Anglicans have much to celebrate – our liturgies old and new are loaded with poetry; there’s poetry in any translation of the Bible, not least in the Psalms; there’s poetry in our hymns. Two Anglican priest-poets spring to mind: George Herbert who died of TB in 1633 after a few years as a country parson, and R.S. Thomas, a Welshman with a cut-glass English accent who died in 2000, bequeathing (along with poetry on other themes) many, many poems which question the nature of God and our relationship with him as a scalpel questions flesh. Both were consummate craftsmen and were highly innovative in their use of line and rhythm and metaphor. Both searched their own hearts.

Many people who flirt with George Herbert seem to stick with one poem, ‘Love bade me welcome’, which is a pity. What about the flight of Easter Wings? What about ’God’s breath in man returning to his birth’? Or the spring resurrection in The Flower:

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse?

Maybe it’s the hospitality of ‘Love bade me welcome’ which attracts. Poems can invite us in: the author may have included more than one interpretation for us to explore, or we may bring our own. We might uncover new riches in a well-loved poem many years after we first met it. (In a similar way, when I visit an Anglican church I feel welcome, and sometimes I’m aware of a rich feast: I might help myself to something from the architecture, from the light at the window, from a hymn, from a smile or a kind word. I often feel myself pulled further in towards some undefined second course, some intangible gift.)

So here it is:


Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sinne.

But quick-ey’d love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here;

Love said, you shall be he.

I the unkinde, the ungratefull?

Ah my deare, I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?

My deare, then I will serve.

You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert

The last four lines are incredibly compressed. Insert at least one long dramatic pause (after ‘blame’) and imagine what the eyes of guest and host are doing there. After that, like the prodigal son, the guest offers to serve, but instead is offered an outstretched hand to lead him or her to the feast.

But the poem’s yours to read as you wish, George Herbert’s gift to you. In his book The Contagion of Jesus launched on his 90th birthday, the Benedictine monk Sebastian Moore delights in telling us the story of a young friend with no religious upbringing coming across this poem for the first time, aged 17. He thought it described a good sexual encounter, overcoming all his inhibitions. Sebastian writes “Herbert’s poem registers at every level, from the nervous adolescent having his first sexual experience to the divine.”

I keep coming back to the shame/blame lines – Love takes the blame, but we are always trying to claim it back! I’ve used one of the lines in this short poem on my website.

There’s recently been a discussion on this site on whether it’s legitimate to rewrite hymns. The general consensus was that it’s not – still less, then, a revered poem. Yet sometimes I need to tweak or rewrite poems, prayers, Bible verses, creeds to enter more deeply into them. (Wendy Cope has added to my appreciation of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land by rendering it brilliantly in five limericks!) Sometimes it’s a single word I change. It’s a round trip – I end up back at the original, with a deeper appreciation.

So for what it’s worth here’s my moustache on the Mona Lisa (see Marcel Duchamp). It goes a bit hippy at the end.


To George Herbert with love

Life bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back
Unwilling to engage.
But quickfoot life, observed me grow slack
From my first entrance in
Drew near to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here.
Life said, That’s you baby.
I, the undead, the ungrateful?
Ah my deare, I cannot dance with thee!
Life took my hand and smiling did reply
Who made thy feet but I?

I see your point, but I’ve messed up.
I think I’ll just sit this one out and have another drink.

The music came over me in waves. I shut my ears and it seeped into my soul. The room fell away; the sun warmed my cold bare feet on the dewed grass. Life’s hand was still in mine, and catching the dawn of hope in my eyes, pulled me to my feet, towards her, away again, jiving, twirling, swirling, jumping. The music was in the ground, and the dance never ends.

Chris Fewings

For some, church is inaccessible and poetry (or other arts) does some of the job that religion once did: words serve as sacrament, as I wrote on the last national poetry day. Others might approach church as if it were a poem or an anthology. For those whose faith is in prose, a little of the power of poetry to subvert words and juggle them joyfully might not go amiss.



The Church of St Andrew, Bemerton, is known as George Herbert’s Church. It is in the parish of Bemerton. In George Herbert’s day the other little church in the area was St Peter’s Fugglestone which now comes within Wilton parish although in Herbert’s day there was the one parish of Bemerton-cum-Fugglestone. On the 14th June, 1934, the stained glass in the West window, as shown here, which had been given by admirers of George Herbert, from all over the world, was unveiled by the Bishop of Salisbury (Dr St.Clair Donaldson). It depicts the Poet and his great friend Nicholas Ferrar. Caroline Townshend and Joan Howson were responsible for the window’s design and execution.” Photographed by Weglinde, and downloaded from Wikimedia under CCL

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