14 January 2023

Praying through poems and
with USPG: 14 January 2023

The Baptism of Christ … a modern icon

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

It has been a busy a week visiting Hungary and Finland with the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the Diocese in Europe, looking at how the church and church agencies there are working with refugees from Ukraine.

When I visited Father Heikki Huttunen in Holy Trinity Church, the oldest Orthodox church in central Helsinki, the icons were celebrating the Baptism of Christ, one of the principal themes of the Epiphany, and the theme of the Gospel reading tomorrow (John 1: 29–42), the Second Sunday of Epiphany (15 January 2023).

Christ’s Baptism is epiphany – or ‘showing forth’ – par excellence, for here we glimpse the whole Trinity: the Father blesses the Son, and the Spirit descends as a dove. This is not only a revelation about God, but also about us, for our own baptism draws us into the Son, so that the Spirit falls on us, and the Father says of us too ‘this is my beloved child’.

My choice of a seasonal poem this morning is ‘The Baptism of Christ,’ another Epiphany poem by the Cambridge priest-poet Malcolm Guite.

The Revd Malcolm Guite is a poet, priest and singer-songwriter and he writes a weekly column in the Church Times. He has been a Bye-Fellow and chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge, and associate chaplain of Saint Edward King and Martyr in Cambridge. On several occasions, he has taught as visiting faculty at several colleges and universities in England and North America.

He is the author of five books of poetry, including two chapbooks and three full-length collections, as well as several books on Christian faith and theology. He has a decisively simple, formalist style in poems, many of which are sonnets. He says his aim is to ‘be profound without ceasing to be beautiful.’ He also performs as a singer and guitarist fronting the Cambridgeshire-based blues, rhythm and blues, and rock band ‘Mystery Train.’

This morning’s poem is from his collection Sounding the Seasons (Canterbury Press, 2012).

The Baptism of Christ by Malcolm Guite

Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Spirit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’

In that swift light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river,
To die and rise and live and love forever.

An icon of the Baptism of Christ, worked on a cut of olive wood by Eleftheria Syrianoglou, in an exhibition in the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is an ‘Epiphany Reflection,’ introduced on Sunday morning by the Revd Michael Sei from the Episcopal Church of Liberia.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us give thanks for the Church of Liberia and its witness to God’s inclusive love. May we join with them in spreading the light of Christ.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Baptism of Christ (ca 1596-1600) … by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos, 1541-1614), Museo del Prado, Madrid

No comments: