George Herbert (1593 – 1633) was a Welsh-born poet, orator, and priest of the Church of England. He hailed from a wealthy family and his poetry is recognised as some of the greatest in the Christian devotional canon.
For our offering today, I’ve decided to stretch outside the safe, sanitized confines of “respectable” or “easy” poetry. Instead, I choose this remarkably incisive and prophetic piece by poet, Dan Anderson.
For those who would not choose to grow old before the Son of Man comes.
A woman with eyes painted on her boobs. Another reading ‘dodgy’, another inscrutable. Unfailingly matched to personal genre. Thematised Personalities of the latter Capitalism.
World writ on the chests of post-Christmas shoppers. On their post-Christmas T-Shirts. Taunt as these turgid surplus days. Or sagging with remorse, various colours of remorse. Buyers. Gifted – those who grieve their gifts. For whatever reason.
Returning shirts. Those soft packages, small bombs of disappointment That mined the carpet round the Christmas tree. Sale shirts. Unwanted gifts never sold. A surplus of disappointment. This excess week, just enough to reconcile the wrong gifts of the old year.
What cancer lives in the soul of a people who exchange gifts? Gifts that were never thought precious to begin with. But were. Gifts that were cheap because the panting labour of creation was stolen. Groaning. Tired hands and aching backs that sutured them cheap.
T-shirts that were hated by their makers, and a disappointment to those who received them. Who will never be worn. Passed from hand to hand but never worn. Raped from the earth. Cotton-farms, Great scratches across her face. Unswabbed. Made poisonous by hatred and other chemicals. Buried. Done again. And again. Until there is nothing left to take and no where left to hide.
When the Son of Man comes, and all his Holy Angels with him, Will he need to do more than open our landfills, speak to the T-Shirts, Give them words to tell their stories, the testimony of fibres. To pronounce? What was whispered in workshops will be shouted from the rooftops. And the judgement written across our chests, graphically, designedly.
Stern Son, I would have no hope of your judgement. If you had not worn such a shirt. Clothed yourself in flesh. Hung upon, cared and washed, worn out. Worn still. Been surplus. Been a disappointment. Been laid with the fodder. Been unspeakably precious. Been the joy of groaning history. Been unrecognised. Been bloodied. Been hung out to dry.
For Adventia, day 11 I am featuring a poet I have long held in high regard. Malcolm Guite is a poet, priest, and singer-songwriter. He is Chaplain of Girton College and Associate Chaplain of St. Edward King and Martyr in Cambridge. Best of all, he champions older forms of poetry which, in my view, best encapsulate the cosmos they seek to inhabit. He is especially adept at the sonnet.
On the back cover of Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year from which this poem is culled, Luci Shaw says the following, “Each of Malcolm Guite’s sonnets is like a Celtic knot, with threads of devotion and theology cunningly woven into shining emblems of truth and beauty. Whether spoken aloud or read silently, these poems speak to mind and soul.”
Run to the nearest bookstore worth its salt and purchase whatever Malcolm Guite books they have. You will not be disappointed.
The radically counter-cultural nature of the Advent narrative demands poetry of equal heft and teeth. Few are better positioned to contribute such as Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (15 August 1917 – 24 March 1980). Catholic prelate and later Bishop of El Salvador became a martyr in his outcries against the social injustice and violence amid the escalating conflict in his homeland. He perished by gunshot while serving Mass. His spirit is the very spirit of Advent itself: love invading hate, light invading darkness, righteousness invading chaos.
December 4th. The Second Sunday of Advent. Sometimes, in terms of prophetic Scriptures, the Sunday representing hope. The gravitas of a future better than our past, of something yet to come that outshines the gloom of dark days, uncertain and fear-filled.
I can’t say this is necessarily that, but it is a new one all the same. And, if it helps to birth hope, all the better.
R. A. Rife
Cup before the pour, cocoa, or tea.
Clouds, rain-swollen, before taking their moment.
Hearts before words, warm and rightly spoken.
Page before pen, story pushing out to meet its maker.
Inside, a child gazes out at virgin snow.
Child, new and eyes closed, before the first embrace.
Car, keys jangling in shaky hands, before first welcome.