Category: Inspirers

Inspirers – Francis of Assisi

Why Him?

.

Why him

why him

why him?

.

Because it seems God chose

one so foolish and so poor

.

To show that only

openness to God

is enough.

onlyopenness FOP

This poem was inspired by one of the stories about St. Francis of Assisi, a man open to nature, open to others, especially the disadvantaged and diseased, open to God.

The poem “Canticle of the Sun” was written by St. Francis of Assisi – and maybe this is one of the reasons I am so inspired by him – he was a poet!

“…Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.”

Brother sun

“Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful…”

Sistermoon

Francis was open to nature – in a big way.

I grew up in south London, and even there I connected with brief glimpses of nature’s beauty – a kestrel hovering over a reservoir, or a stunning sunset in the skies over the less inspiring suburban sights of the London Borough of Wandsworth…

When I moved into the countryside for my first full-time job, it felt like both finding a new home, but also coming home, to a kind of spiritual feeling at home, connected, more strongly now, with nature.

 

Walking the Hills

 .

The wild birds inhabit these hills

            and I, a walker,

glancing down the valley

            dazzled by gleaming lights

                        flung across the fields like necklaces

.

I feel connected with the wind

            the grass under my feet

                        God’s sky above my head.

 

connectedFWTS

 The spirituality of St. Francis, and his Franciscan brothers, was an outdoor spirituality, deeply connected with the natural world.  It included praying in the woods – as above – as well as the better-known preaching to birds and talking to wolves.

It was also a felt and lived spirituality, not a dry, theoretical, abstract belief system.

 

In the Wood

.

To one praying in the wood

The word of God came

.

Louder than the human voice

The other saw deeper into Christ

.

Through his tears

Than forests of theologians.

.

seedeeperforests FOP

But the poem with which I began this post – “Why him?” – draws me back to his openness to God, openness to changing his life, and openness to others, including those who were shunned by others.

There is a story about how Francis could not bear the sight of those suffering from leprosy.  But through his openness, “that which was bitter became sweet”.  His whole attitude of mind and heart changed.

 

Bitter Sweet

 .

When the sweet

becomes bitter,

.

The bitter,

sweet,

.

Then you are

on the way,

.

Transformed

from darkness to light.

.

onwaydarklight FOP2

 

Openness is also about the practice of contemplation, and being open to change through grace.

 

Like a Droplet

.

Your nature is absorbed

like a droplet of water

into the mighty ocean

of divinity.

 

absorbedoceandivinity FOP

 

Eternity

 

Raised to the infinite grace

of life and love

.

I plunged into eternity

conscious of nothing created

.

Absorbed in the infinity

of godliness

.

That ocean of light

where nothing is seen

.

But God

In all things.

.

oceanoflight FOP

Openness is also about being open to others – through listening, through imaginative awareness and through compassion.

 

The Welcome

.

We must welcome

the guest

.

Who enters our lives

however briefly

.

Seeking

what we do not know

.

And minister

in unknown ways,

.

Meet many

an angel.

welcometheguest meetangel

If you have read through to the end of this post, I hope you have learned something about St. Francis of Assisi, and what he means to me. 

I hope I might have sparked an interest in you to find out more, and would be happy to recommend some of the books that have inspired me if you are interested.

 

Inspirers – William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth inspired me with words about beauty and about transcendence…

beauteousevening Wordsworth

It is a beauteous Evening, calm and free;
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven is on the Sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder—everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear’st untouched by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest “in Abraham’s bosom” all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Poems_(Wordsworth,_1815)/Volume_2/It_is_a_beauteous

He celebrated nature in accessible language, and reached out to mysteries that lie beyond our responses to natural beauty…

daffodils wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:—
A Poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the shew to me had brought:

.

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Poems_(Wordsworth,_1815)/Volume_1/I_wandered_lonely

I warmed to the way he wrote so openly about the spiritual consolations of nature.

This tribute I wrote was deliberately written in an imitation of Wordsworth’s style…

Tribute to Wordsworth

 

Often when the dreadful weight of this

Unintelligible and weary world

Oppressed me like a care, I turned thankful

To your poetry – I felt it move

Along my veins, inside my heart, when I

Was young and saw into the life of things.

That was a blessed time, though transitory,

And soon I had to leave to find my own

Philosophy, though nature always kept

A place of refuge and a solace for

My soul.  And now in lonely cities, in

My room and ‘mid the roar of nearby roads,

I think of you, and I recall my early

Wanderings in the world of poetry.

placerefuge JOC

That photograph is of his beloved Lake District, where he grew up – a place where I have visited and have also been inspired.

In the previous poem I echoed some of his phrases he uses in his poem “Tintern Abbey”

When I visited this awesome place, I too felt its power, and wrote this:

Tintern Abbey

 

Framing the hills

made sacred by those

Who devoted this space

of body and mind

Whose dedication

was to the rock

they adored

We tread again

their foundations

Gaze upward as they did

to distant frontiers

Where angels constantly cross

the boundaries of time

Call to us in their hymns

to attend to the music of God.

tinternabbey JOC

In another poem, Wordsworth says that we are born “trailing clouds of glory” – an inspiring thought (‘Intimations of Immortality’).

clouds of glory

I hope I may have inspired you to read Wordsworth yourself.  ‘My Heart Leaps Up’  and  ‘Lines Written in Early Spring’ are beautiful short poems to read next, perhaps…

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

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 – in which he refer to

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:

.

The three

Ways of seeing

.

Firstly the world about us

our senses perceive

.

Secondly the soul within

which only the spirit knows

.

Thirdly the mind

venturing beyond itself

.

Into new worlds

unseen and unknown.

outsidewithinbeyond JTG2

Inspirers – George Herbert

 

“Love bade me welcome

But my soul drew back…”

 

So begins one of George Herbert’s great poems, called “Love (III)”.

 

Although Herbert is not well known, he writes with a powerful simplicity.  He understands love, suffering and inner struggles.

Many of his lines have inspired me.  This is how his poem “The Call” begins:

comemyway HERBERT

 

And these words are from a great poem called “The Flower”, about dealing with storms in life, and then “budding again”:

 

6. budagain HERBERT

 

One of my self-published collections is called “The Joy of Creation”,  and I imitated his style in this piece, which called by the same name:

For the Joy of Creation

 

See my first grey hairs have come

but will they also take my brain?

Can I not remain

in writing fine and witty?

 

Sure, my God would not care so

as long as my verses still contain

You are still my God at heart,

which is the richest part

 

And while my body wastes away

I am renewed within and constantly

And as I age

that is my brightest day.

 

So if I keep my lovely lines

or not is not for me to say

All I could ever dare

was You are still my God

 

If I have written this

which ever way it is

then I have written fair.

 

agebrightday JOC

 

This is from an earlier collection, chronologically, again in Herbert’s simple style.

 

‘I took your book’

 

I took your book

and read

 

It said you bled

for me

 

They cried

who watched you die

 

But joy now fills my heart

I’ll not part

 

From your ways

all my days.

 

joyfillsmyheart FW

 

If you are interested in reading more, there are many, many thoughtful, wonderful poems by him. “Prayer (I)” is particularly wonderful, packed full of metaphors.  And “Heaven” is another fantastic poem, where each alternate line answers the previous merely by echoing part of the previous rhyming word.

Inspirers – of love, of spirituality, of time – T.S.Eliot

For me, T.S.Eliot is the writer of time, of love, of spirituality, and of “the desert”.

This is a spiritual desert -“The Waste Land” – as he calls it in his most influential work…

desert TSEliot

That concept – of a spiritual desert – has spoken to me many times:

 

Movements of Time

 

I.

In a world of time

we must find a way

to bear reality

 

At a still point

descending deeper

than the twittering world

the silence rinses the soul

 

And the word is here

in the quietness of the desert

though assailed by shrieking voices

of temptation

 

Love remains the mover

primal

beyond time.

 

loveprimal OOM

 

Eliot also writes about what he calls “moments of illumination”, as in this wonderful phrase (from “The Waste Land”):

Gazingintoheartlight ELIOT

“The heart of light” – the idea of a “timeless moment” inspired this:

 

II.

Sometimes

there is a timelessness

in a moment

 

That cuts deeper

into the mind

than the soul understands

 

And the spirit arises anew

forever now facing

a different direction

however unnoticeable.

 

Eliot sees both how life feels meaningless and empty for some, but he went on more and more to see how transcendence is possible:

 

pentecostalfire ELIOT

 

My final poem for this post was inspired, like the other two, by “Burnt Norton” in Eliot’s wonderful work “Four Quartets”.  There is a beautiful passage there about how the human body’s “dance” is like the movement of the stars, and I wanted to express this wonder about the order of the universe, notwithstanding how confusing life often is…

 

There is a pattern in the universe

the flow of the blood

the drift of stars

the seasons of the moon

 

We take our place in the dance

moving hesitantly

stumbling

 

But the dance goes on

lifts with its music

 

Moves our feet

with the rhythm of the heart.

 

dancegoesone OOM

Inspirers: “the earth, the seas, the light…” – Thomas Traherne

He is the poet of joy and ecstatic lines:

Theearththeseas TRAHERNE

He is the poet of wonder:

12. Fromdust TRAHERNE

Thomas Traherne wrote about “flow” long before the contemporary psychologist Csikszentmihalyi did…

Iwithindidflow TRAHERNE

Thomas Traherne’s poetry was only discovered in the 20th century, though he lived in the 17th century.

I have found myself inspired by his vision of radiance and joy in this poem that I wrote:

With deep

and infinite sight

.

We glimpse the glory

and the light

.

Preparing us

for more –

.

The fountain

pours eternally

.

Where shines

the divine mystery

.

The face of God

whom we adore.

glorylight TRAHERNE

You might like to follow @ThomasTraherne on Twitter (not my account), and you might enjoy this poem by him if you would like to read more:

The Salutation

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

.

Hardened my heart

to the close call of conscience

.

All this in the hope

I would find somewhere else

.

What I lacked

In the home

.

Of the soul

Safe in God.

.

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. Jesus’ parable of “The Prodigal Son” 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: 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: 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. She is remembered throughout the world on 15th October.

I have called this sequence of seven 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

.

And there are

many mansions

.

God delights to dwell

within this paradise

.

Its beauty is beyond

all comprehension

.

And no matter how theological

our minds

.

We cannot fully apprehend

the sacred image of God.

.

II.

God dwells in the very centre of being

where the most secret things pass

.

Where differences seem most indistinguishable

between spirit human and divine

.

In the timeless immaterial

reality of transformation.

.

III.

I know that place

where the lizards scuttle

.

And the soul strains each spiritual nerve

for holiness

.

But if I have a soul

as beautiful

.

As the crystal castle

May it be cleansed

.

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.

.

V.

The soul could give no shade

if it were not growing by this spring

.

The soul would produce no fruit

without its living waters

.

It is the spring that flows

throughout all living being

.

The spring of life

For all.

.

VI.

Enter the castle

By prayer and reflection

.

Inhabit each room

Through divine meditation

.

The door of life

Opens

.

And before

Is the way

.

Of wisdom

Of love

.

And of the soul’s

Eternal salvation.

.

VII

Think of the soul

As a diamond

.

Whose many

Facets

.

The light

Of God

.

Enters

Reflects

.

In fascinating

Glory

.

Transforming

An ordinary

.

Human

Story.

Inspirers: The Inspiration of Adam

Chapters 1-3 of Genesis describe the totally captivating stories of the creation of the universe, the earth, all of life, and human life in particular. “Adam”, for me, represents all of humanity: we are created, related, spiritual, embodied, sexual, articulate, inquisitive, logical, mortal, fallible…

“Vitruvian Man”, Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” (above) explores the relationship between humanity and mathematics: the human figure is shown as proportionate and symmetrical. Sadly, few of us are quite as mathematically perfect as this!

Masaccio’s painting below, is one of the most harrowing portrayals I know. This is of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise:

But overall, when I think of the story of Adam, I am more inspired than deflated. The story of Adam is the story of a universe where God intentionally creates a living, self-conscious human being. It is not science, but it illuminates the human condition.

Adam, from The Ghent Altarpiece, Van Eyck