Kingdom People

A hymn and a reflection on collaborative hymn-writing

by Sarah Brush and Michael Brierley.

 

Tend us, Lord, as Kingdom People

planted in the world, your field:

love, compassion, justice, freedom

are the crop we long to yield.

 

At our root, in depth and richness,

love divine provides the ground,

that our lives, secure and nourished,

may in love for all abound.

 

Forth from love there stems compassion:

we will weep with those who mourn,

staying with the lost and lonely

through the darkness to the dawn.

 

From compassion, justice blossoms

for the weak, outcast, oppressed,

casting down the rich and mighty

so that meek and poor are blest.

 

Freedom is the fruit of justice –

not the choice of our own way,

but the God-giv’n grace to follow

Christ in every step each day.

 

Love, compassion, justice, freedom –

grant, creator God, our call

by your Spirit so to grow

’til Christ our Lord fills all in all.

 

Sarah Brush (1974) Michael Brierley (1973)

Tune:  Servant Song

 

Below is a collaborative reflection about a piece of creative collaboration in the writing of the hymn above.  The words of the Revd Canon Dr Michael Brierley, Precentor of Worcester Cathedral and Cuddesdon alumnus are in black and the words of the Revd Dr Sarah Brush, Tutor in Pastoral Theology at Cuddesdon are in green.

 

The Diocese of Worcester has an initiative ‘Kingdom People’, which seeks to enable Christian communities more fully to embody four ‘kingdom values’  –  love, compassion, justice and freedom.

 

I’d always thought those four words had such a good rhythm to them and, as I was preparing to leave a diocese I’d worked in for nearly ten years, I tried to put them to music. At an earlier diocesan event we had used the hymn Brother Sister Let Me Serve You for which I’d written a couple of extra verses reflecting the particular prayer activities at the event. I thought using that tune would be a suitable echo for people to half hear in their minds as they sang the new words; linking life as Kingdom People with the Servant Song.

 

I worked on several versions of the words but couldn’t get them quite right. Thinking it would be good to have someone else reflect on it, I sent it to our cathedral Precentor, Michael Brierley who had incorporated other modern hymn compositions by young clergy, like Ally Barrett, in various services for the diocese.

 

Sarah Brush, then a curate in the diocese, sent some hymn words on this theme for possible inclusion at the diocesan services which I help to arrange at the cathedral.  I was both excited by their freshness, their structure (a verse on each value, introduced and concluded) and their topicality, and also found myself wondering whether one or two corners could be further polished.

 

I’d never worked on a hymn before, and found that a couple of train journeys to London on the sluggish line through the Cotswolds were the ideal setting for the polishing.  I ended up re-writing more than I expected.  The metre (and tune) was 8787, and the difficulty of filling the unemphasised, last syllable on the first and third lines spilt over into altering other lines.

 

It wasn’t always an easy process; sometimes we would critique phrases the other had painstakingly constructed or pitch for a change of one particular word. Often, changes meant more changes were needed and sacrifices of other words were necessary. Yet most of the time, perhaps begrudgingly on my part at times, Michael’s suggestions improved what I’d written and even expressed something I’d been trying to say but hadn’t quite achieved.

 

There was also the issue of focusing on a single metaphor – that of a plant – to run through all the verses.

 

This was one particular development which was a truly collaborative creation: the hymn transformed from reflecting the Kingdom People values with only a passing allusion to the vine logo which accompanied them to one which was woven throughout with an extended metaphor of a growing plant. This development gave us lots of new challenges but resulted in something so much better than my original version.

 

Several email exchanges later, the result was premiered at the chrism eucharist in Worcester Cathedral in Holy Week 2018.  All the better for being a genuinely collaborative exercise, it was a harder task than I imagined: but having done one, a next one – given a train journey or two through the Cotswolds – might turn out to be easier …

 

 

kingdom people

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Light

In this poem and reflection, Rev’d Vicky Barrett considers the paradox of the women’s silence after visiting the tomb and meeting Jesus, and the experience of reading in Mark’s Gospel, two thousand years later, of a resurrection which refuses to be silenced.

 

First Light

(a poem based on Mark 16:1-8)

 

They must do what they can
now the Sabbath is over.
Back to work.
Their oils are sharp and pungent,
Stripping dawn’s thin grey curtain.
Their steps, directed, urgent,
to soothe the scarred body,
move the lovely limbs
lying wound up and wounded
in the dank dark of a borrowed grave.

 

How? How? the doves cry,
an echo of their anxious words,
the weight of the stone
wedged between them and their love.
Pounding hearts:
as the oils glow like slow amber pools,
spices tease their nostrils.
Tick, tick. Birds shrill the alarm.

 

Breath snags on a barb.
Surprise? Confusion? Hope? Jealousy?
Has someone come ahead of them
to offer the rituals which are theirs?
Has someone stolen the precious freight
from this stony barque?

 

Who is this man in white?
What is his news?
Not here.
Their eyes trace the outline of the tomb.
Not here.
Not there, where they laid him,
Escaped, unbound, fetterless.

 

The sun rinses the mouth of the tomb,
A widening ‘O’ of light.
The spices fall to the ground.
Oil finds a new course.
The earth gleams and is fragrant.

 

They turn and feet flutter a fleeting path
like sparrows’ feathers.
Breath unravels in rags,
muscles shriek with exertion.
The burden of their news
lurches and sways and batters them
mad-eyed with joyous fear.
Teeth chatter riddling messages.
But who would believe these harpies
who say they have seen an angel?

 

Better to roll the stone back again,
be safe, familiar, silent.
Let the men
wrap the words like oilcloth round the carpenter’s tools,
stitch up the fishing nets
and not
dare to believe
in the terrifying mystery
who comes in majesty
to greet them.

 

Vicky Barrett Easter 2018

 

Reflection

 

Mark’s Gospel is full of silences, no more so than that of Chapter 16, verse 8:

 

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

How is it then, that out of the women’s paralysis of terror and amazement, we find ourselves responding to the good news of the risen Christ today?

 

We may find ourselves silent, paralysed also by terror, amazement; scepticism or apathy too, perhaps. But the wonderful good news is that Jesus has done this thing anyway; that’s how much he loves us. Our Creator God is able to bring the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the world in spite of us. As Luke puts it when the Pharisees ask Jesus to tell his disciples to be quiet, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

Mark’s Gospel account gives us the encouragement to explore our response, to fill in the narrative gaps and colour them in, to play in the shadows of this amazing message.

 

I found myself doing this as I prepared for Easter morning and ended up writing a poem.

 

How can you find your way of expressing a response to this Easter story?

 

empty tomb

God and the Jolly Bored Bog-Mouse

Tom Britt reflects on hope amidst despair through Wendy Cope’s poem ‘God and the Jolly Bored Bog-Mouse.’

God and the Jolly Bored Bog-Mouse

God tried to teach Mouse how to sing.
‘Piss off! I’m not the sort.’
Mouse squelched away across the bog.
‘It’s jolly cold,’ he thought.

Stone-numb, Mouse watched the ice-bright stars,
Decided they were boring.
Cradled in roots and sodden turf,
Soon he was jolly snoring.

Mouse dreamed a Universe of Blood,
He dreamed a shabby room,
He dreamed a dank hole in the earth,
(Back to the jolly womb).

Mouse tried to vomit up his guts
Then got up for a pee.
A comet pulsed across the sky –
He didn’t jolly see.

Wendy Cope. 

Wendy Cope’s, God and the Jolly Bored Bog-Mouse is a darkly humoured poem that parodies the writing styles of some famous male poets (Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney and Charles Causley).

But I was moved by the relationship between God and a bog-mouse. So I’ve decided to interpret the poem literally, to reflect upon how it captures the suffering many know.

First God tires teaching Mouse to sing: ‘Piss off! I’m not the sort’, he retorts. Praise won’t work; Mouse’s spirits are too low for that! He’d rather fend for himself, because this is all he knows. At least that’s what he keeps telling himself!

He’s unable to see the stark beauty of God’s creation:

Stone-numb, Mouse watched the ice-bright stars,
Decided they were boring.

Mouse is entrenched in his own surroundings: this perspective is all he’s willing to see, hear, feel and experience. Mouse is safe in the muddy bog, but he’s not fully alive:

Cradled in roots and sodden turf,
Soon he was jolly snoring.

Mouse finds a primitive comfort in the familiarity of his home. What will it take for him to see God’s glory? What is stopping him?

Even his dreams reflect his downcast spirit that does not know hope:

He dreamed a dank hole in the earth,
(Back to the jolly womb).

When interpreted literally this poem is troubling. Mouse acutely feels the weight of existence and he’s searching for meaning.

Waking from the dullness of sleep doesn’t help Mouse. It’s another day and Mouse is merely surviving.

The poem ends starkly, but hope is also present. Mouse’s lament is bodily; he ‘tries to vomit up his guts’. In this abjectly bleak situation God sends Mouse another sign:

A comet pulsed across the sky –
He didn’t jolly see.

I don’t know where this ending leaves Mouse. But in the morning gloom, God is there alongside Mouse.

That’s where God will stay.