Gethsemane by Rowan Williams

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane Paolo Veronese 1583 – 1584 Palazzo Brera, Milan, Italy

Who said that trees grow easily
compared with us? What if the bright
bare load that pushes down on them
insisted that they spread and bowed
and pleated back on themselves and cracked
and hunched? Light dropping like a palm
levelling the ground, backwards and forwards?

Across the valley are the other witnesses
of two millennia, the broad stones
packed by the hand of God, bristling
with little messages to fill the cracks.
As the light falls and flattens what grows
on these hills, the fault lines dart and spread,
there is room to say something, quick and tight.

Into the trees’ clefts, then, do we push
our folded words, thick as thumbs?
somewhere inside the ancient bark, a voice
has been before us, pushed the densest word
of all, abba, and left it to be collected by
whoever happens to be passing, bent down
the same way by the hot unreadable palms.

Hear Malcolm Guite read today’s poem

RickWhen a man is truly desperate he will cry out to God.  The circumstances will vary but the hard fact will not.  Perhaps it is the moment when his life is threatened, or it could be the grave illness of a child, or the prospects of facing career ruin or the end of a marriage.  When nothing else is there, our hearts cry “abba“.

The pressure of life and circumstance takes us to our core.  We first will cling to the props and scaffolds we credit to our efforts, but when they begin to collapse around us, we reach for our Father.

Writing of today’s poem in The Word in the Wilderness, Malcom Guite says:

And so the poem turns, coming suddenly upon its heart and meaning, finding Christ’s own prayer, still being uttered in the heart of the tree:

somewhere inside the ancient bark, a voice
has been before us, pushed the densest word
of all, abba,

And ‘abba’ that densest word of all, packed intensely in that agony with both Christ’s love for his Father and his sense of abandonment, is also the word that truly links the two scenes of the poem, the Wailing Wall ‘witness of two millennia’ of exile and abandonment’ and the Garden of Gethsemane, witness of the God who entered into and experienced that abandonment with humanity.

Have circumstances ever caused you to cry out to God?

Mark 14:36

And He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”

D I G  D E E P E R

Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams

(born 14 June 1950)  Welsh Anglican bishop, theologian and poet.

Williams was the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Metropolitan of the Province of Canterbury and Primate of All England, offices he held from December 2002 to December 2012. He was previously the Bishop of Monmouth and Archbishop of Wales, making him the first Archbishop of Canterbury in modern times not to be appointed from within the Church of England.

Williams spent much of his earlier career as an academic at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford successively. He speaks three languages and reads at least nine.

Williams’ primacy was marked by speculation that the Anglican Communion (in which the Archbishop of Canterbury is the leading figure) was on the verge of fragmentation. Williams worked to keep all sides talking to one another. Notable events during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury include the rejection by a majority of dioceses of his proposed Anglican Covenant and, in the final General Synod of his tenure, the failure to secure a sufficient majority for a measure to allow the appointment of women as bishops in the Church of England.

Williams stood down as Archbishop of Canterbury on 31 December 2012  to take up the position of Master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University in January 2013. Later in 2013 he was appointed Chancellor of the University of South Wales. He also delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 2013. Justin Welby succeeded him in the chair of St Augustine on 9 November 2012, being enthroned in March 2013. On 26 December 2012, 10 Downing St announced Williams’ elevation to the peerage as a Life Baron, so that he could continue to speak in the Upper House of Parliament. Following the creation of his title on 8 January and its gazetting on 11 January 2013, he was introduced to the temporal benches of the House of Lords as Baron Williams of Oystermouth on 15 January 2013, sitting as a crossbencher.


Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

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


51vg-xoskvl-_sy346_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.

Published by

Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life