Mid May Reflections

 Source : A New Day by Matteo Zanvettor.

It's only Monday but I feel I am already being drawn to " the place of the goodbyes" of the Ascension next Sunday, when Christ takes physical leave of this world and His disciples. 

Am I experiencing a foretaste of the separation anxiety that the Ascension signifies.?
Who knows, but here are a few poems and hymns to describe it better.


Salute the last and everlasting day,
Joy at th' uprising of this Sun, and Son,
Ye whose true tears, or tribulation
Have purely wash'd, or burnt your drossy clay. 

Behold, the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which He treads upon ;
Nor doth He by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way. 

O strong Ram, which hast batter'd heaven for me !
Mild Lamb, which with Thy Blood hast mark'd the path !
Bright Torch, which shinest, that I the way may see ! 

O, with Thy own Blood quench Thy own just wrath ;
And if Thy Holy Spirit my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise. 

John Donne  

Ascension Day

Soft cloud, that while the breeze of May
Chants her glad matins in the leafy arch,
Draw'st thy bright veil across the heavenly way
Meet pavement for an angel's glorious march:

My soul is envious of mine eye,
That it should soar and glide with thee so fast,
The while my grovelling thoughts half buried lie,
Or lawless roam around this earthly waste.

Chains of my heart, avaunt I say -
I will arise, and in the strength of love
Pursue the bright track ere it fade away,
My Saviour's pathway to His home above.

Sure, when I reach the point where earth
Melts into nothing from th' uncumbered sight,
Heaven will o'ercome th' attraction of my birth.
And I shall sink in yonder sea of light:

Till resting by th' incarnate LORD,
Once bleeding, now triumphant for my sake,
I mark Him, how by seraph hosts adored,
He to earth's lowest
cares is still awake.

The sun and every vassal star,
All space, beyond the soar of angel wings,
Wait on His word: and yet He stays His car
For every sigh a contrite suppliant brings.

He listens to the silent tear
For all the anthems of the boundless sky -
And shall our dreams of music bar our ear
To His soul-piercing voice for ever nigh?

Nay, gracious Saviour--but as now
Our thoughts have traced Thee to Thy glory-throne
So help us evermore with thee to bow
Where human sorrow breathes her lowly moan.

We must not stand to gaze too long,
Though on unfolding Heaven our gaze we bend
Where lost behind the bright angelic throng
We see CHRIST'S entering triumph slow ascend.

No fear but we shall soon behold,
Faster than now it fades, that gleam revive,
When issuing from his cloud of fiery gold
Our wasted frames feel the true sun, and live.

Then shall we see Thee as Thou art,
For ever fixed in no unfruitful gaze,
But such as lifts the new-created heart,
Age after age, in worthier love and praise.

John Keble
It's awhile since I posted a Billy Collins poem  and I love this one, as always, full of wry humour but so much more too. It is not a religious poem or is it ?
As I read it I was struck too by how our faith can operate just as frequently from a place of nostalgia as it does from a grasp of Jesus being in the here and now of the daily slog. 
We often associate nostalgia as an emotion linked to personal memories of the past but this poem calls up times we experience vicariously, via glimpses of the past.

Thanks to the different ways we have learned to process, store and make widely available the knowledge and images of life from the distant past, we are lucky to be able to know more about history than our ancestors ever did. 

We can conceivably be nostalgic for any time in history and hanker after experiences not our own, in times that span several generations.

Yet human nature is capable of nostalgia too on a singular moment in our present existence  - as shown by what for me is one of the best lines in the whole poem :

“Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.” – Now I am nostalgic for that.

The poem exposes the fast turning wheel of life, so fast it never stops and in the rare moments when it is slow makes us want to control it.

But the final line of the poem wistfully suggests that nostalgia can also run forward into a future we cannot see.

 Despite the fact that we cannot have foreknowledge of what shape it will take, there is a surety it will be very different than the present and that there may be something greater than the particular in that.


Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade, 
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular, 
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework. 
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today. 

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.

Billy Collins, “Nostalgia” from Questions About Angels. Copyright © 1991 by Billy Collins. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press, www.pitt.edu/~press/

There is something about the ancient nature of faith and belief that carries a feeling of nostalgia for a time past when we were once at one with our creator and a desire for the future when we can once again be made whole in Christ.

When so much in life is hidden by the shadow of death and frequent little deaths (!) , our faith oscillates somewhere between drawing from the ancient wells and springs and the hope we have as Easter People for a new song and a fresh way of living.

We carry an inchoate memory of what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus means and hope it is able to replenish us and transform us in the present too.

Ancient Words by Robin Mark

Here Is Love 
A great version of this well known hymn:-  despite my difficulties with atonement "stuff" I can still love the buoyancy of God's love and the great music in this stirring hymn.

 Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.

Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heavens eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of Gods mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.

Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heavens peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

Our unquenchable thirst for Christ is expressed in this beautiful hymn, "As The Deer Pants For The Water" : "You alone are my hearts desire !

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