This Precarious Faith

Last week I was able to go on a retreat to St Bueno’s, a wonderful Jesuit retreat house in North Wales. In the main chapel, there is an altar that rests on large boulders. It inspired me to write this poem.

The altar at St Bueno’s, St Asaphs, North Wales

This precarious faith
Balancing on the boulders
of fears, doubts and wanderings.

One strong push and it’s scattered
The table toppled
and all that was stable
broken. In pieces.

Wondering if we should pick up
the rocks and throw,
hurl and shatter.
It feels so weak.

This precarious faith
Resting on the boulders
of the one who gathers, mends, and makes whole.

©Clare Hayns, January 2022

Window in the Rock Chapel, St Buenos by Claire Mullholland

A poem for Christmas 2021

Happy Christmas to you all. It’s been a difficult year for so many, in so many ways, and at times it’s been hard to see light in the darkness. This poem, by Jan Richardson, has helped me and so I’m sharing it with you in hope that ‘the blessed light’ might seek you out and bring you joy and peace.

How the Light Comes, by Jan Richardson

I cannot tell you
how the light comes.

What I know is
that it is more ancient
than imagining.

That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.

That it loves
searching out
what is hidden,
what is lost,
what is forgotten
or in peril
or in pain.

That it has a fondness
for the body,
for finding its way
toward flesh,
for tracing the edges
of form,
for shining forth
through the eye,
the hand,
the heart.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not foresee.

And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still

to the blessed light
that comes.

—Jan Richardson
“How the Light Comes” appears in Jan’s new book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons.

A Sonnet for Easter Dawn

Photo – Micah Hayns (Easter Day, Oxford, 2021)

XV Easter Dawn by Malcolm Guite

He blesses every love which weeps and grieves
And now he blesses hers who stood and wept
And would not be consoled, or leave her love’s
Last touching place, but watched as low light crept
Up from the east. A sound behind her stirs
A scatter of bright birdsong through the air.
She turns, but cannot focus through her tears,
Or recognise the Gardener standing there.
She hardly hears his gentle question ‘Why,
Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light
That brightens as she chokes out her reply
‘They took my love away, my day is night’
And then she hears her name, she hears Love say
The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.

Happy Easter

A poem for Christmas 2020

One of my favourite authors of all time is Maya Angelou, who never fails to move me with her poetry and prose. I have only just recently come across this poem, written in 2005 for the White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and so I’d like to share it with you. This month I’ve listened a lot to the carol ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’, and the verse ‘Snow had fallen, Snow on snow’ has resonated. I’d always thought of that line as being about more beautiful snow falling, but this year it seems to me to be about more struggle, more disease, more tiers. This is echoed in Angleou’s poem ‘Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche’.

But this is indeed the ‘Glad Season’, a time where, even in this bleakest of winters, we can have hope and joy because the God of Peace has entered into our world. I love the image that, ‘Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us;
As we make our way to higher ground’.

And so wherever you are, whoever you are with, whatever tier you’re in, peace be with you and all those you love. Happy Christmas. Clare

AMAZING PEACE:  A Christmas Poem
by Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

Bathsheba’s Song

Bathsheba ©MicahHayns

From 2 Samuel 11

Guest Blog by Milly Sinclair, training consultant…and my sister!

How long, how long will we sing this song
How long…

Raped Bathsheba
Given a name
But no voice
Just another
Naked beauty
A footnote in a
Famous man’s story

Boy David
Turned Goliath
Powerful man king
Snatching at flesh
That wasn’t his
To take

And Oh, oh, oh
she had no stone to fell him

The fame of
David’s name.
His lust known
His rape
His murder:
‘You are the man… yes you are the man.’
His lavish atonement
His grief
His poetry
His lineage
Writ large for perpetuity

You share the blame
Of his shame
Your child taken.

How wild was David’s grief
How deep and wide David’s repentance…
‘wash me as white as snow’

Bathsheba’s cries unheard
Bathsheba’s grief unwritten
Bathsheba’s rape unredeemed
Bathsheba’s stain unwashed
Wife of a murdered husband
Mother of a stolen child
Forced to drink
Again… and again…
The bitter cup

All the women,
Yes, all the women
Whose bodies are used
As weapons of war,
All the footnotes
In powerful men’s story,
All that share the blame
Of man’s shame.
All the nameless,
The blameless
The wordless
Raped women
Line up… line up
Fill our ears with your voice.
Bathsheba’s story is your story
We hear you.

How long, how long will
We sing this song
How long….

Broken, naked woman
Broken, naked, man
Redeem us.

It is Mothering Sunday in the UK tomorrow, a day that is full of joy for some and sorrow for others. This year will be particularly difficult for all those who can’t be with their mothers. And so let us pray for women who are mothers, for our own mothers, for those who long to be a mother, and for all those who have a ‘mothering’ role in caring for children and young people.

Lord, we pray for the women of our world
the mothers of all nations.
May those who suffer violence be given strength to survive.
May those who suffer poverty and distress be given hope and aid.
May those who suffer pain and fear be given relief and courage.
May those who are homeless be given shelter and protection.
Lord guide those who have, that they may give
with love and compassion to those who have not.
A prayer from Pida Ripley, London


Daughter of Eve

Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder
1526, Public Domain

by Megan Chester, Undergraduate of English, Christ Church, Oxford (written for this blog, February 2020)

To my precious, darling daughter,
My flesh, my blood, my bone,
Wherever you fall, whatever you do,
Please know you’re not alone.

I never got to be a child,
Never had that time to grow.
I didn’t have a mother telling me
All the things that I should know.

I fell with such velocity,
That the world still feels the quake.
Daughter, I found out the hard way,
So please learn from my mistake.

I know evil, daughter,
I know how he plays –
He waits until you’re vulnerable,
Invites himself in, stays.

But my love, don’t talk to strangers,
Never entertain his game;
It’s hard to win and the loser’s
Forever burdened with his blame.

Daughter, don’t dance with the devil –
Be bold in what you know is right.
He’ll trample your knowledge with what you don’t know.
Though the bait may look tempting, don’t bite.

Don’t follow in my footsteps child,
Only follow paths divine,
And I’ll be right there behind you
Until we reach the time

When I can’t go where you can tread.
There I will meet the end,
But I’ll watch you from the gate and pray
That God’s grace will extend.

Be careful of always wanting more.
Save yourself the cost.
I paid but my debt’s still great,
So, love, learn from what I lost.

Seemingly sweet is sour,
This I wish that I was told.
A lesson you figure through suffering
When as a newborn you are old.

I had more love than I could carry,
So much desire – what to do?
But in this strength the snake saw weakness.
I was naïve. The serpent knew.

I was seduced by a promise of wisdom,
Which the wise would have refused.
My heart chased what it didn’t love –
Its desire was abused.

I was lured into loving a beauty,
Which true love would have let go.
Where I was weak, my child, be strong.
I have faith you can say no.

I wish you could feel how it was before
The dawn of darkness came.
When united in flesh we loved and were loved,
When bare bodies knew no shame.

Please, if you can, forgive me child
When labour tears you limb from limb.
I wish I’d done things differently
And never let him in.

I hear his hissing every night
And I’m sorry every day
That, because I tripped and fell so far,
Your life must be this way.

Child, all this one day will change,
In flesh and blood beyond our scope,
But until then listen to your mother’s words,
My darling daughter Hope.

Perhaps you too in days to come
Will be lover, mother, wife,
Or perhaps you won’t, but Daughter of Eve
I know you will breathe life.

Precious girl, please don’t make my mistakes.
I’m sure at times you’ll make your own.
But remember, even if you do,
You’ll never fall alone.

A prayer for Lent adapted from the Book of Common Prayer
Almighty God, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

Poem: ‘Oxford’, by Keith Douglas

A Poem read at Leavers’ Evensong on June 16th 2019

Keith Douglas, 1920-1944

At home as in no other city, here
summer holds her breath in a dark street
the trees nocturnally scented, lovers like moths
go by silently on the footpaths
and spirits of the young wait,
cannot be expelled, multiply each year.
In the meadows, walks, over the walls
the sunlight, far-travelled, tired and content,
warms the recollections of old men, touching
the hand of the scholar on his book, marching
through quadrangles and arches, at last spent
it leans through the stained windows and falls.

This then is the city of young men, of beginning,
ideas, trials, pardonable follies,
the lightness, seriousness and sorrow of youth.
And the city of the old, looking for truth,
browsing for years, the mind’s seven bellies
filled, become legendary figures, seeming
stones of the city, her venerable towers;
dignified, clothed by erudition and time.
For them it is not a city but an existence;
outside which everything is a pretence:
within, the leisurely immortals dream,
venerated and spared by the ominous hours.

Used with kind permission by the Douglas Estate