Category: Inspirers

Blessing in this gentle breeze

“OH there is blessing in this gentle breeze,

A visitant that while it fans my cheek

Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings

From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.

Whate’er its mission, the soft breeze can come

To none more grateful than to me; escaped

From the vast city, where I long had pined

A discontented sojourner: now free, Free as a bird…”

From The Prelude by William Wordsworth

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Image by Lucian Aeris from Pixabay
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Inspirers: Henri Nouwen – “Return of the Prodigal Son” (2)

Henri Nouwen has inspired me in so many ways that each book of his deserves its own mention!

“Return of the Prodigal Son” is a wonderful book that inspired a whole collection I wrote, called “Returning to the Father”.

Fleeing

Again and again

I have fled the hands of blessing

.

Made myself deaf

to the voice of love

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Hardened my heart

to the close call of conscience

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All this in the hope

I would find somewhere else

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What I lacked

In the home

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Of the soul

Safe in God.

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soulsafe RTF

Rembrandt’s painting of “The Return of the Prodigal Son” is at the heart of Henri Nouwen’s book.  It is an amazing painting that deserves repeated viewing.  And Nouwen wonderfully interweaves meditations on Rembrandt’s life, his own life and on the spiritual journey.

I love the way Nouwen harnesses the insights of modern psychology alongside his deep perception and experience of spirituality.  The parable of “The Prodigal Son” of course runs all through the book, and Nouwen wonderfully elaborates on how the spiritual journey can involve rebellion, lostness and despair, as well as progress, homecoming and love.

Returning

I am on my way home

feeling the nearness of love

I have left the distant country

and am travelling

My feet keeping step

with the beating of my heart

As I journey

to the heart of the father.

journeyheart RTF

Inspirers – Mark

Mark made me see the power of beginnings:

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The beginning of life

Is not at first cry

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But when the soul

Begins to know why

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And moves in faith

That the purpose

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And mission

Are beyond the present

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In a future unseen

And a destiny.

beginningoflife MARK1.1

Who is Mark? 

I will reveal all in a moment…

Mark helped me see the power of solitude and silence…

timealonebuilds Mk1.35
Earlyinthemorning MARK

He showed me the power of reaching out...

Reachoutlife MARK

And he showed me hope…

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The sins of the past

became an obsession

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Clouding the present

obscuring the good

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Stealing the future

awaiting a hope –

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A baptised, new hope

emerging from water

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Rising to life

Eternal life.

hope MARK 1.5

The Mark I am talking about, is the Gospel of Mark.  And by thoughtfully reflecting on just Chapter 1, verse by verse, I have been inspired again and again.

The Inspiration of St. John of the Cross

I first came across St. John of the Cross through a small paperback version of “The Dark Night of the Soul”.  It’s maybe not a title that publishers would promote today!  But perhaps it spoke to my consciousness that all was not well in my spirit, and that although sometimes I was elated in worship and prayer, at other times I felt far from God and far from faith, love, joy and hope.

St. John wrote poetry as well as theology, and “The Dark Night” includes a poem he wrote, which he then explores through what you might call a spiritual commentary.  I came to poetry through studying literature at school, and after experimenting with a spiritual journal, found that I could combine my interests of both writing and spirituality through my own poems.

This first poem, “Journey”, develops from the idea that life can often feel full of “darkness”, but that faith can provide a way of journeying through (not avoiding) that darkness – as St. John explores in his teaching.

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Journey

I began in darkness with no guide but faith

and I longed for the love of God

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I started to break from my habits of being

and my feeble capacity for love

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I rejoiced in the blessed moments of peace

that came upon my soul

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And now, in moments of clearness,

I see visions

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The drives and the desires of my soul are being transformed

by the drives and the desires of God

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I started my journey in darkness

now I travel in the dawning light

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May I end in that brightness

where God shall be both day and night.

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St. John also writes about longing – our spiritual longing for God – as a valid form of prayer.  I have found this very consoling when I feel like I lack the exact words, or the enthusiasm, for articulate, joyful praise or committed intercession.  The sense of longing is something mysterious, something we cannot control or “summon up” by willpower.  It is God’s work in us:

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Longing

Sometimes I have a strong longing for God,

I do not know what is happening to me

or where this love comes from

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I simply see the flames of love

burning higher and higher

as I lovingly yearn for God.

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The third and last poem I am going to share in this post is about dryness – the so-called “desert experience” of our spiritual journey.  St. John writes a lot about detachment and purification in “The Dark Night” and in other works – neither are fashionable ideas today, in either the secular or, indeed, in some parts of the Christian world.  I was inspired by his analogy of dry sticks catching fire: through a certain detachment from pleasure and from distractions, we make ourselves better able to focus on God, and “catch fire” with love:

Dry Sticks Catch Fire

Dry sticks catch fire the best

and so you say the driest soul

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Having withdrawn

from immersion in light

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Flames in the darkness

with longing for God.

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Inspirers: St. Bonaventure

You may or may not know this beautiful painting by William Blake:

jacob-s-ladder.jpg!Large

…or this older icon…

ladderofdivineascenticon

They both take up a very ancient idea that goes back over thousands of years.

He saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” is another version (Jacob’s dream, from The Book of Genesis).

St. Bonaventure seized my interest with his own account of life as an upward journey in one of my favourite books: “Journey of the Mind to God“:

the material universe is a ladder by which we may ascend to God”.

St. Bonaventure goes on to describe three ways we can seek God – remarkable in their clarity and accessibility.

1. “First…we must pass through vestiges which are corporeal and temporal and outside us” (he means “nature”!)

2. “Next we must enter our mind, which is the image of God, an image which is everlasting, and spiritual and within us”

3. “Finally we must go beyond to what is eternal, most spiritual and beyond us.”

I find that so amazing:

  1. Find God through appreciating the beauty, awesomeness, otherness, power, peacefulness (and more) of nature
  2. Find God through understanding the power of the human mind to think beyond time, to reason, to understand, to empathise (and more)
  3. Find God through what transcends this world: heaven and eternity

Do all three ring true with you, or one especially, or none at all?

What follows is one of a number of poems I have written, inspired by St. Bonaventure:

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The three

Ways of seeing

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Firstly the world about us

our senses perceive

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Secondly the soul within

which only the spirit knows

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Thirdly the mind

venturing beyond itself

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Into new worlds

unseen and unknown.

outsidewithinbeyond JTG2

Inspirers: Emily Dickinson

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She startles us by her wisdom and her originality:

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fearamansilent DICKINSON

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She inspires us by her love of nature:

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thebee DICKINSON

For much of her life, Emily lived in solitude, yet she could write with amazing power about hope:

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Hopeisthething DICKINSON

Her words inspired this poem on the same theme:

Dying, dying in the night

and lost in everlasting snow

Who will bring back the light

to warm the perishing soul

With sufficient hope

to outlast the storm

of winter’s bite?

bringbacklight ED

I learnt from her the power of the short poem, and her “Complete Poems” of 1775 short works is one of my most valued books.

This is a tribute to her:

You did not need

the easy admiration

Of a band

of distant followers

But silent, alone

wrote your way

To wisdom,

and the revelation

Of lines and lines

of poetry.

findyourway ED

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She died on 15th May, 1886 – “the day I first surmised the horses’ heads / Were towards eternity” is a haunting line from one of her most amazing poems which begins “Because I could not stop for death”.

You can read it here.

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horses heads eternity

Inspirers: “the world’s light and life” – Henry Vaughan

He knew about the power of inspiration…

“…the world’s light, and life…”

worldlight VAUGHAN

…and the mysterious power of divine love:

“drops fell on this heart and made it bud…”

dropsheartbud VAUGHAN

He also knew very well his weaknesses:

…my sad failings, and my wild

Murmurings…my secret faults and each

Frequent relapse and mild breach…

These lines are all be Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), a writer who is very little known about today.  The  influence of George Herbert (another one of my inspirers!) can be seen everywhere in his work.  In fact, he even writes about the power of other people and writers to influence us:

“They are (indeed) our pillar fires

Seen as we go

They are that City’s shining spires

We travel to…”

He writes about the inspiration of divine fire…

shunnotfire VAUGHAN

This poem I wrote was inspired by his work:

Many times

you called

Your words

striking me

And I

like flint

First hard,

then sparking

Occasionally,

a response

To the love

that fires

all things.

heartsparking VAUGHAN 18May

If you have started to be interested in this wonderful writer, you could read more of his work here:

“They are all gone into the world of light”

“I saw eternity the other night”

Inspirers: St. John of the Cross

This is one of the most amazing diagrams I have ever come across…

mount carmel

St. John was a poet and an artist as well a great spiritual teacher, and I love this mysterious diagram he drew to illustrate “Mount Carmel”.

The middle section near the bottom has the words “nothing nothing nothing….”, which inspired this short poem…

Nothing, nothing, nothing

on the way

Yet on the summit

a clear cloud of light.

summitcloud SFS

A better-known concept that St. John of the Cross wrote about is “the dark night of the soul”. He wanted people to realise that spiritual growth does not occur just through ecstatic experiences.  It is not just joy and happiness that leads us to God.  The mountaintop is a fantastic place to be – but our journey goes beyond into darkness and the unknown, where we have to lose our way to find our way.  This is sometimes called “apophatic” thinking, or the “via negativa” (negative way).

Journey

 

I began in darkness with no guide but faith

and I longed for the love of God

I started to break from my habits of being

and my feeble capacity for love

I rejoiced in the blessed moments of peace

that came upon my soul

And now, in moments of clearness,

I see visions

The drives and the desires of my soul are being transformed

by the drives and the desires of God

I started my journey in darkness

now I travel in the dawning light

May I end in that brightness

where God shall be both day and night.

brightness endDL1

The poet R.S. Thomas wrote a poem with the title “Via Negativa” and you can read it here.

You  might also be interested in this post on St. John of the Cross on an interesting blog called Anglican Carmelite Spirituality here.

Maybe he will inspire you?

Inspirers: Catherine of Siena – 29th April

Catherine – commemorated on 29th April – one of twenty-five children.

What is one of the most inspiring things for me about her is her passion:

 

settheworldonfire

Born in Siena in 1347, she is known now as St. Catherine of Siena. 

I love the drama and poetry of her language, and this poem was inspired by her imagery:

 

The soul is a garden

and you must uproot

the weeds that cling

to your saving thoughts

dig deep the space

for the seeds of grace

 

To be sown

root and grow

sunned by the spirit

watered by prayer

breathing in love’s air.

breathinglovesair SOS1

 

It’s amazing to think that she was uneducated, but somehow taught herself to read, and authored her amazing book called “The Dialogue”, which is full of spiritual insight, drama, wonderful imagery and drama, and homely wisdom.

Her wisdom sits behind this poem:

 

Your humility will be tested by the proud

your faith by the faithless

your compassion by the cruel

your hope by those who despair.

tested SIENA1

I always hope to communicate something of the insights and wisdom of my inspirers when my writing takes as a point of departure their work, and I hope you also have gained something from this post about how St. Catherine of Siena has inspired me.

Inspirers: St. Teresa of Avila

teresa1

I came across St. Teresa of Avila through her book “The Interior Castle“, and it revolutionised the way I thought.

The soul’s beauty and capabilities are so immeasurably great” she writes.   For me, that said that I mattered, that what was inside was precious and valuable, that God cared.

soulsbeauty AVILA

The soul is like a castle“, she writes.  In a short blog post I can’t do justice to how she elaborates on this image but I find such illumination in the way she writes about inner conflict, distractions and temptations in prayer (in the outer rooms, where the “lizards” enter and cause problems). 

I find it so uplifting how she writes about the “inner rooms” of the castle, where the soul is sometimes caught up in prayer and adoration, in unity with God.

soullikecastle AVILA

I have gone on to read part of her own autobiography, a modern biography of her life and some of her other writings.  But for me, “The Interior Castle” still provides a profound and spiritually inspiring read whenever I return to it.

I have called this short sequence of poems inspired by her writing “The Castle of St. Teresa”…

The Castle of St. Teresa

I.

The soul is like a castle

made of clear crystal

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And there are

many mansions

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God delights to dwell

within this paradise

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Its beauty is beyond

all comprehension

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And no matter how theological

our minds

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We cannot fully apprehend

the sacred image of God.

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II.

God dwells in the very centre of being

where the most secret things pass

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Where differences seem most indistinguishable

between spirit human and divine

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In the timeless immaterial

reality of transformation.

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III.

I know that place

where the lizards scuttle

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And the soul strains each spiritual nerve

for holiness

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But if I have a soul

as beautiful

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As the crystal castle

May it be cleansed

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And full

Of light.

IV.

God always calls

            such is his love

No matter how much

            we fail him

He always calls

            us to draw near.

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V.

The soul could give no shade

if it were not growing by this spring

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The soul would produce no fruit

without its living waters

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It is the spring that flows

throughout all living being

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The spring of life

For all.

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VI.

Enter the castle

By prayer and reflection

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Inhabit each room

Through divine meditation

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The door of life

Opens

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And before

Is the way

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Of wisdom

Of love

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And of the soul’s

Eternal salvation.

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VII

Think of the soul

As a diamond

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Whose many

Facets

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The light

Of God

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Enters

Reflects

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In fascinating

Glory

.

Transforming

An ordinary

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Human

Story.