Come close with Mary, Martha, Lazarus,
So close the candles flare with their soft breath,
And kindle heart and soul to flame within us
Lit by these mysteries of life and death.
For beauty now begins the final movement,
In quietness and intimate encounter,
The alabaster jar of precious ointment
Is broken open for the world’s true lover.
The whole room richly fills to feast the senses
With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,
The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,
Here at the very centre of all things,
Here at the meeting place of love and loss
We all foresee and see beyond the cross.
Hear Malcom Guite read today’s poem
What does it mean to love God with all of our heart? Worship is certainly fear and trembling, but it is also adoration and abandon. In today’s sonnet, Malcom Guite take us to Bethany where Jesus’ friend Mary anointed His feet with costly oil, and wiped them with her hair. In this precious scene we find the essence of worship.
Writing in The Word in the Wilderness, Malcom Guite says:
My hope in this poem is to bring us, through the rich feast of the senses, through the mysterious intimacy of encounter, to a centre, a stillness, a sense of poise and balance, in which we can see fully and unflinchingly the suffering that Jesus embraces with us, but also see beyond it, and glimpse a little the joy of restored relationship and renewed love which his outpouring of himself on the cross will bring.
How does this scene relate to your life?
John 12: 1-8
Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial. For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”
Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.
Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.