Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

An excerpt from Thomas Merton’s beautiful poem, ‘Song: If you Seek…’:

Follow my ways and I will lead you
To golden-haired suns,
Logos and music, blameless joys,
Innocent of questions
And beyond answers:

For I, Solitude, am thine own self:
I, Nothingness, am thy All.
I, Silence, am thy Amen!

This is the text of my sermon preached today in Cliftonville Moravian Church, Belfast:

When I was training to be a scientist, and later when I worked in that field professionally, it was very common for co-workers to get together and discuss their latest results from any experiments that had been done.  A very common comment, that I heard, and indeed made, was ‘is that result real’, or ‘are we just seeing an artifact of the experiment’?  In other words, we approached the work of investigation with a profound dose of scepticism…..or doubt.  We looked at what was in front of us from a number of different perspectives, re-evaluating it again and again, testing our assumptions each time.

And so that expression of doubt was, and is, very healthy.  It prompts deeper reflection and it fosters a questioning outlook.   It recognises the fact that life operates at a level of complexity that requires a thoughtful, questioning and unfolding response.

Christianity, at its best, operates with similar assumptions.  But sometimes, we know that it doesn’t.  It can be presented to us as far too formulaic and simplistic; questioning, in this environment, is not to be encouraged or entertained.  The rational component of Faith is subverted and it verges on becoming a superstitious endeavour – formulating a simplistic list of ‘facts’ that must be adhered to and not explored to the full extent our intellect allows.

Charles Spurgeon, the famous British Baptist Minister recognised this.  And it is of course worth remembering that Spurgeon was hardly a liberal!  It is after all ‘liberals’ (whatever that label means…..and it is often used pejoratively!) that have unfairly been seen as having the monopoly on doubt.  So here is what Spurgeon wrote in his sermon entitled “Desire of the Soul in Spiritual Darkness” (quoted in Relevant Magazine: See Further Reading)

“I think, when a man says, ‘I never doubt,’ it is quite time for us to doubt him, it is quite time for us to begin to say, ‘Ah, poor soul, I am afraid you are not on the road at all, for if you were, you would see so many things in yourself, and so much glory in Christ more than you deserve, that you would be so much ashamed of yourself, as even to say, ‘It is too good to be true.'” (Quoted in Relevant Magazine)

And doubt wasn’t the preserve of Spurgeon.  None other than that great reformer, John Calvin, had something positive to say of it too.  He said this:

 “Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety.” (Quoted in Relevant Magazine).

There are many other prominent Christians, across the ages, who have expressed similar sentiments in relation to the utility of doubt in shaping our faith and helping us to better understand the divine more holistically and realistically. Luther was one, and so was the writer C.S. Lewis. I’m sure you’ll each know other examples.

We also see numerous examples when we look to Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments.  Look at our Old Testament Lesson today – Judges 6:36-40, a rather strange story of Gideon doubting God’s plan for him.  And so he ‘tests’ God, and God indulges him, and Gideon eventually gets the message and moves on to fulfil his role and live out his vocation. Here, doubt had served a concrete purpose for a man who was unsure.

Perhaps the most famous example of a biblical ‘doubter’ is that of ‘Doubting Thomas’, where one disciple struggled to comprehend the reality of the resurrection.  But if we think about how the biblical narrative portrays the disciples, especially in Mark’s Gospel, where they frequently question Jesus, miss the point of what he was saying and teaching, and fail to grasp the import of his message.  They were very human in their attributes, and that’s the way it was meant to be.  And so it was with Thomas – he was wrestling intellectually and emotionally with everything he had seen, heard and believed.  It was through that process of questioning and probing, that his faith made sense to him as an individual.  And that’s surely the point, is it not? We approach questions of faith and understanding as individuals; we need to satisfy those questions that have meaning for us. That’s why Thomas’ doubting….his deviation from the ‘norm’……is instructive; it was his nature to doubt.

Crucially though, in all the instances we encounter across in the Biblical narrative, God uses that doubt for greater use, to bring forth a series of messages that are universal in their application. Doubt, in its thinking, rational and constructive form is not to be viewed in a negative light as it often is Christian circles.

You may be familiar with a book entitled ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ which is written by Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke; it included a number of letters to Franz Xaver Kappus, a young soldier. Rilke wrote the following words in one of his letters:

 “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” 

Now, that’s perceptive!  And it served the basis for a recent publication ‘Letters to a Young Doubter’ by William Sloane Coffin, an American Minister, Chaplain and Social Activist.  In this book, Coffin writes a series of letters to a fictional young college student. He reflects and offers advice on a diverse range of issues centred around faith and how this interacts with those perennial problems of life – bereavement, failure, politics, ambition, relationships, love and achievement.  Coffin says this in one of his letters:

 “…don’t be anxious about your newfound doubts.  Doubts move you forward not backward, just as long as you doubt out of love of the truth, not out of some pathological need to doubt.”

And there we have it.  When we doubt out of love for the truth, we follow the path set before us with integrity.  True discipleship is tough; it includes failure and doubt, but also victory and certainty.  When we love the truth, doubt is transformed from a negative to a positive.  Doubt takes on a beauty that unquestioning conformity can never understand nor enjoy; it journeys with us a delineates our path.

So let us today embrace what God has given us – a questioning mind, a loving heart, a desire for the truth and a peace that comes with it – a peace that surpasses all understanding.

AMEN

Further Reading: Jesse Carey, 7 Prominent Christian Thinkers Who Wrestled With Doubt, Relevant Magazine. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/7-prominent-christian-thinkers-who-wrestled-doubt

From Templegate Publishers:

‘Robert Lax, (1915-2000), was a poet, hermit, sage, and peacemaker. Thomas Merton said of Lax, “He had a natural, instinctive spirituality, an inborn direction to the living God.” Jack Kerouac called him “a Pilgrim in search of beautiful innocence.”

W3 Lax R

A native of New York, Lax graduated from Columbia University in 1938 with a degree in English Literature. After much wandering he traveled to Greece where he made Patmos, Isle of the Revelation, his spiritual and creative workshop. There he quietly resided for over three decades, writing the “ascetic” and experimental verse that would rank him “Among America’s greatest poets, a true minimalist who can weave awesome poems from remarkably few words” (New York Times Book Review).

In the Beginning Was Love is a unique introduction to Lax as contemplative. These spiritual selections, mostly gathered from his poems and journals, portray Lax as a mystic filled with a deep love for both Creator and creation’.

This new book is edited by a friend – S. T. Georgiou, Ph.D.  He is the author of some very significant publications: The Way of the Dreamcatcher: Spirit-Lessons with Robert Lax, (Templegate), Mystic Street, and The Isle of Monte Cristo. He teaches religion and spirituality in the San Francisco Bay Area.

You can order the book on Templegate Publishers website: www.templegate.com, and it should soon be available via Amazon.com.

I’m looking forward to reading it!

Since today is world poetry day, I thought I would post one of my poems – God In All Things – published in ‘The Other Side of Light’:

The Other Side of Light Front Page

The great dialectic,

Immanent, yet transcendent,

mysterious, yet knowable,

God in all things.

 

God within, God without,

God above us, God before us,

ever about us.

God in all things.

 

Accessible through prayer,

contemplation and meditation,

revealed in Scripture.

God in all things.

 

In the setting of the sun,

In the budding of a flower,

In beauty of new life.

God in all things.

 

In the faces of those we meet,

In forgiveness offered,

or in any act of love.

God in all things.

 

Look,

Listen,

Reflect.

God is in all things.

The Other Side of Light Front Page

NEW PUBLICATION: The Other Side of Light by Scott Peddie & Columba O’Neill

In this short collection of poems, the echo of the spiritual life leaves its indelible mark on each page and in each word spoken. 

It is unusual in that it stems from what at first seems to be two divergent spiritual paths: one a Presbyterian Minister and the other a Cistercian Monk. But in actual fact the spiritual convergence is very clear for the reader to see as the poetry progresses. Common themes of silence, contemplation and reflection, among others, make their presence felt and witness to the fact that God is our reality, regardless of how we choose to express ourselves ecclesiastically. 

The Other Side of Light is a testament to the fact that God can be perceived in all things, and the joy of the Christian journey comes from discovering that reality and in expressing it in words.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Columba O’Neill has been a Cistercian Monk, living in Bethlehem Abbey in Co. Antrim, for more than fifty years. Scott Peddie lives in Co. Antrim and is a Presbyterian Minister and member of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans. He has published two previous books of poetry ‘Embracing Imperfection’ and ‘Looking Inwards: A Bipolar Journey’.

The Other Side of Light is available in Kindle format from Amazon.  In the USA, you can purchase the book here: http://amzn.com/B00JJR3QA6.  In the UK or Ireland, you can download the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00JJR3QA6.

If you don’t have a Kindle device, you can download the Kindle reader for your PC, Mac, phone or tablet by visiting the Amazon website.

 

Looking Inwards Front Page

On Saturday 13th July the publisher (The Crystal Bard Press) will be offering the kindle edition of my second book – Looking Inwards: A Bipolar Journey – as a free download via Amazon.

‘Looking Inwards: A Bipolar Journey is a collection of abstract art, photography and poems by Scott Peddie, a minister and scientist who, after years of suffering from depression, has recently been diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder. 

The poetry, which is often agonising, always tender and thoughtful, reflects Scott’s experience of living with this complex condition and follows on from his first book, Embracing Imperfection. 

The abstract art and photography is a very personal reflection on the variable emotions that characterise the inner life of an individual living with this condition. 

The author royalties from the sale of this book in Kindle format are being donated to Aware Defeat Depression NI, an organisation that offers practical help to depression/bipolar sufferers and their families’.

You can download the book from Amazon UK here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00B36UBYU ….and via this link if you live in the USA: http://amzn.com/B00B36UBYU

Looking Inwards: A Bipolar Journey is a collection of abstract art, photography and poems by Scott Peddie, a minister and scientist who, after years of suffering from depression, has recently been diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder.

The poetry, which is often agonising, always tender and thoughtful, reflects Scott’s experience of living with this complex condition and follows on from his first book, Embracing Imperfection (also available from Amazon).

The abstract art and photography is a very personal reflection on the variable emotions that characterise the inner life of an individual living with this condition.

The author royalties from the sale of this book in Kindle format are being donated to Aware Depression NI, an organisation that offers practical help to depression/bipolar sufferers and their families.

Looking Inwards Front Page

You can purchase the kindle edition at Amazon in the UK here or via Amazon in the US here.

From the website of the publisher of my new book:

The Crystal Bard Press are delighted to have published Scott Peddie’s new book Embracing Imperfection, a collection of poetry inspired by his experiences of bipolar affective disorder. Scott is a scientist and Christian minister whose wide and deep concerns include contemplative prayer and social justice as well as mental health advocacy. He writes two blogs, Christian Conjectures and An Uneasy Awakening which contain much that is insightful, challenging and enlightening. Proceeds of the sale of Embracing Imperfection will be donated to Aware Defeat Depression NI. It is also available in Kindle format here.

Visit the Crystal Bard Books website here: http://www.crystalbard.com/wordpress/

“Pangur Bán” is a wonderful Old Irish poem, written in the 9th century at or around Reichenau Abbey. Composed by an Irish monk, the poem explores the wisdom and inspiration that can be drawn from observing cats. As anyone who has ever lived with a cat can confirm, they are among the wisest of creatures.

Below is a virtual movie of the celebrated Victorian theologian and academic Cardinal John Henry Newman reading ‘Pangur Bán‘.

I have accumulated thousands of books over the years, but I would hazard a guess that perhaps only a handful of those would fit into the category of ‘must haves’  or ‘books that are so enriching/life-affirming/insightful that I could not do without them! Roger Housden’s For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics’ is one such of those books though.  In it he offers 98 of the most compelling poems from both historic and contemporary Christian writers, commonly referred to as mystics on account of their relationship with God and how they articulate this to the wider community.

The variety of authors and the breadth and depth of their poetry is a wonderful reflection of the range of experience and style of recounting that experience that is extant. And so, through Housden, we have access to the wisdom of the Desert Fathers, the fire of St. Augustine, and on through the medieval insights of Meister Eckhart, St. Francis of Assisi and the visionary ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila and on to more contemporary writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Merton and R.S. Thomas.  With each poem, Housden provides a brief, but insightful commentary that prompts the reader to revisit each poem with new eyes and to meditate on the words more deeply.

Housden’s collection tackles a plethora of different theses which reflects the concerns of believers over the years and in current times.  What is evident is that faith is always beautiful, but sometimes painful; the ecstatic and joyful are an integral part of the experiential encounter with the divine.

Through the medium of poetry, the reader can fully enter in to the intensity of experience that the mystic articulates using expressive and profound words, concepts and motifs. But that is not all; the mystic poets transcendent words as they point towards a truth that cannot be truly expressed in human terms, but can only be comprehended via an individual encounter with God.

And so I shall leave you with the words of one of the Christian mystics featured in Housden’s book – Johannes Tauler, a follower of Meister Eckhart, who  wrote ‘The Mysterious Place‘:

St Augustine says that there is a mysterious place
deep in the soul that is beyond time and this world, a part
higher than that which gives life and movement to 
the body; true prayer so raises the heart that God can
come into this innermost place, the most disinterested,
intimate, and noble part of our being, the seat of our unity.
It is His eternal dwelling-place, and
into this grand and mysterious kingdom He pours
the sweet delight of which I have spoken. Then is man no
longer troubled by anything: he is recollected, quiet, and
really himself, and becomes daily more detached,
spiritualized, and contemplative, for God is within him,
reigning and working in the depths of his soul.