In 1999 I produced my poetry book Becoming Human which explored the movements of the Christian Eucharist in a new democratic South Africa, and in the context where I served as an Anglican priest. Over the next weeks and months I shall be sharing some of my readings of the poems from Becoming Human. Viv Stacey had written the very helpful summary for the back cover of the book. I thought that I would keep a column for notes and echoes that might appear in the poems, and for the sketches that appear in the book.
What is this enchanting music? This shaft of light
softening and gilding our shuddering world.
You play the mountains like an organist of light
mixing your moods and tones
so that rocks and clouds interweave
and solids and vapour take human form.
Your beauty transfixes me –
Are you of one mind only?
Do other watchers see you too?
For in this dream world
I am pleasure filled
with incessant ripples of you.
How easily peace speaks itself here,
already the chains like gossamer disappear
and I sense the breath of other souls,
their roads not dissimilar.
I could brother and sister you
into this ring that seeds the earth
but see, the light wheels in a second
becoming headlamps in a frenzy,
selfish for a road that is theirs.
Will these Easter bells ring crisp on the air
a carillon that sings under the skin?
You would have me look up, look high,
to follow the line of each object
to its inner and outer resonance
through coils of expansive glory
ringing with the pleasure of you
to know you at every point of the universe
to feel the tenderness that is within
and far beyond
for all that is earth, human and weak
cries glory in the softness of rain and sky.
Jesus took bread and gave thanks
The Eucharist is the great thanksgiving, for in it is the offering of the whole of life to God, through art, music, ritual, tradition, culture, material possessions and the offering of self, for consecration, for blessing and transformation, ‘that heaven and earth might be filled with the glory of God’.
The past is made present through the collective memory of the community, through reflection and the narrative of Scripture. The present is represented in the bread and wine of the community and the messianic future is assured through the resurrected One who breaks into the present from the future. Jesus is the new being. The Eucharist is, therefore, the still point in time when the past, present and the future become one and God is present through the power of the Creative Spirit in a movement that recreates and redirects humankind.
The Eucharist begins with the Gloria. It is the great act of Praise by the community of the Church. It emerges from the Early Church. It is a Song of Praise to the Trinitarian Being of God.
This is what the poet Rainer Maria Rilke says about Praise.
The Poet Speaks of Praising
Oh speak, poet, what do you?
But the monstrosities and the murderous days,
how do you endure them, how do you take them? –I praise.
But the anonymous, the nameless grays,
how, poet, do you still invoke them?
What right have you, in all displays,
in very mask, to be genuine?
And that the stillness and the turbulent sprays
know you like star and storm?
–because I praise.
(from Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties, ed. and trans. by John J. L. Mood, Norton, 1975)
As part of the movement of the Eucharist there is the sermon. People often raise their eye-brows at sermons. They often sigh and think well here we go, and wait patiently for the end. I wanted this poetry sermon to come as a surprise. So it comes as a Rap – a very popular form of poetry amongst young people.
When I performed it at a College morning service I had to pause for the ovations. I am sure that they were less concerned with the message and more engaged by the form in which it was presented, and the thought of my daring to do it.
Cool cat, on your mat
Gotta lotta speak
Gotta lotta squeak
On the line, off the block
With the gun, you gottta run, you gotta run
You can do this, so go, show, go
This race is about grace,
So face Lucifer in high-tech boots
The tough guy who smokes cheroots
Runs for fun, spikes your type
Thugs, drugs, is all his hype.
So face the truth,
You’re no creep, even is sleep
You begat, you belong
To the family tree
You and me and the Holy Three
So breathe deep,
Raise your feet
You’re a fitness freak.
Greats will tire in the race
Use your praying space
The super energy store
For life evermore
Be the angel to the poor
Raise your chin
Raise your face
You’re a cool person
Full of grace
Lucifer can’t keep pace
He’s a disgrace!
You have a place!
Sermon Wrap is based on the text of Hebrews 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us
Cover by Jane Dean, design by Richard Commin
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