Sermon for Matins

29 July 2007 at :00 am

During this month I have been reflecting on the set readings of the day through the medium of poetry. And today I am considering a South African priest-poet who writes with the pressing immediacy of the South African landscape and the people who inhabit it. Harry Wiggetts is an immensely gifted and sensitive priest-poet who manages to speak powerfully - from seemingly simple ideas and words - of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Both in his use of alliteration, his interest in nature and his use of unusual rhythm, Wiggett’s poetry has strong references to that other priest-poet we considered last Sunday, Gerard Manley Hopkins, nor , understandably, does he avoid the Anglican heritage of T S Eliot. By chance I saw a review of Wiggett’s “collected Poems” in the Church Times yesterday after I had written this sermon!

I wanted this morning to think of two poems from Harry Wiggett’s 1994 collection Celebration of Silence.

The first is Silence Alive

Silent Father
Silent Son
Silent Holy Spirit
Silent One – I love you.

In the silence of eyes
     I see you.
In the silence of unspoken words
     I hear you.
In the silence of sudden touch
     I feel you.
In the silence of a flower’s fragrance
     I smell you.
In the silence of bread and wine
     I taste you.

Sensual God, I love you!

I love you in the silence –
         Silent father
         Silent Son
     Silent Holy Spirit
     Silent One – I love you.

Harry Wiggetts has exercised his ministry as a parish priest in all sorts of places – suburban, urban, rural and coastal. In this poem Silence Alive we can sense that his ministry has been profoundly centred in his life of prayer. With remarkable sensitivity he leads us into the silent heart of God –

Silent Father
Silent Son
Silent Holy Spirit
Silent One – I love you

And in the next five stanzas each starting with the words In the silence… he opens a window into his soul, a door so that we too can enter into his intensely intimate relationship with The Creator:
Sensual God, I love you!

I love you in the silence –
Our first reading from the Song of Solomon comes as something of a Biblical bomb-shell with its erotic imagery, even though it is often allegorized as the yearning of the devotee for God, suggesting the complexities involved in worshipping and relating to a God who is unseen but is needed and desired. Unlike R S Thomas whose poems such as “the echoes return slowly” suggest a very distant God, Wiggett’s poem has a profound sense of the nearness and intimacy of the God whom the medieval mystics found in the cloud of unknowing” and “the dark night of the soul.”

The second poem, The Silent Self , was chosen by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as his contribution to a collection of favourite poems from famous people and this helped to bring Harry Wiggetts to peoples’ notice. The Silent Self:

Silence is
     Sitting still
     Standing still
     Lying still
Consciously
     Gratefully
          Gracefully
Breathing
Inspiring
     Being inspired with life
          And love
     From him from whom these
          Gifts do come-
The lord of life and love –
The living Lord Jesus.

And in the stillness
          Knowing
     And joyfully acknowledging
     That in Jesus alone
The silence of life and love is found.

Then to humbly rest
               Sit
          Stand
     Lie
To bow the knee
     In that satisfying silence –
          And be fulfilled.

Wiggett’s here makes the contemplative life of the mystic sound beguilingly simple. There are no complex philosophies here, no esoteric language, no great systems, such as we find is many of the classical writers on contemplative prayer. I don’t think Harry Wiggett would expect us to think in such a grand way. Here, quite simply, he writes of love silently sitting, standing, lying, in the presence of the beloved. Those who have struggled long and hard with the discipline of silent prayer may feel a little peeved, but hopefully they will also be encouraged for Harry Wiggetts suggests that we don’t need complicated systems for our prayer, we just need to sit quite simply and silently in the presence of Love. And it is that faith, trust, and love that, grounded in the hard experience of apartheid South Africa, gives the urgency and the prophetic vision to help people connect with gospel and reality. If we wanted to take sincerely and zealously the advice of St Peter to persecuted and beleaguered Christians in our second reading – therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers – we could do a lot worse than ponder those words of Harry Wiggett, and try to put them into practice:

Silence is
     Sitting still
     Standing still
     Lying still
Consciously
     Gratefully
          Gracefully
Breathing
Inspiring
     Being inspired with life
          And love
     From him from whom these
          Gifts do come-
The lord of life and love –
The living Lord Jesus.

And in the stillness
          Knowing
     And joyfully acknowledging
     That in Jesus alone
The silence of life and love is found.

Then to humbly rest
               Sit
          Stand….

Collected Poems 1970 – 2006 by Harry Wiggett. Edited by Chris Chivers
Contact: chris.chivers@blackburn.anglican.org

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