Malcolm Guite: Poetry hit home on themes of refugees, and refuge

Poet/priest Malcolm Guite read several of his poems on Advent, the Christmas season and the process of letting go at the end of life at Cedar Park Church. Daniel Funk photo.

Poet/priest Malcolm Guite read several of his poems on the themes of Advent, the Christmas season and the process of letting go at the end of life. Daniel Funk photo.

It was a dark and stormy night (December 12), and I was debating the wisdom of driving from East Van to the depths of Ladner – even for what seemed like a sure thing: Malcolm Guite and Friends. (I had been impressed with Guite when I saw him perform with Steve Bell at Regent College not too long ago.)

As soon as I arrived at Cedar Park Church, I knew I had made the right decision. The open sanctuary, beautifully decorated tables and expectant audience all promised an evening of good will and culture, a perfect refuge from the storm.

Roy Salmond, who received a lifetime achievement award at the Covenant Awards earlier this fall, hosted the show and, after reminding us we were at a fundraiser for the Delta Hospice, led off with some lively Christmas carols.

Host Roy Salmond with Malcolm Guite. Daniel Funk photo.

Host Roy Salmond with Malcolm Guite. Daniel Funk photo.

Then he introduced us to his guest. Malcolm Guite – who, in appearance, reminds one of a hefty leprechaun or one of Tolkien’s more comfortable characters – transported us to a poetry-suffused world. These words from his own C.S. Lewis: A Sonnet could equally be said of him:

Scribe of the Kingdom, keeper of the door
Which opens on to all we might have lost,
Ward of a word-hoard in the deep hearts core
Telling the tale of Love from first to last.

Guite, who describes himself as a poet-priest (and rock musician), is a chaplain and fellow of Girton College Cambridge. On the Sunday before his Cedar Park gig, he was leading an event in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London; here is the announcement on the St. Paul’s website:

Sunday 6 December
1pm – Sunday Forum: Malcolm Guite – Waiting on the Word
Advent is the season when we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas. But while all around us the world speeds up in pre-Christmas rush, it can be difficult to find a place for stillness and contemplation. Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions for every day in Advent and Christmas.

At Cedar Park, Guite recited a number of poems, especially ones related to the season – though a couple, such as his lament on the deficiencies of the new Oxford Junior Dictionary – were amusingly off-topic.

In Refugee, he tied together the Advent story and the plight of so many, right now, in the Middle East.

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.
Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower
Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,
The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,
And death squads spread their curse across the world.
But every Herod dies, and comes alone
To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

Guite dedicated ‘Holding and Letting Go’ (listen here) to the Delta Hospice. “I wrote this poem,” he said, “about a very personal thing, and I thought it was so private.” But then he sent it to a friend (on Salt Spring Island, as it happens), who in turn read it to her friends at the local hospice – and they found it spoke directly to them. I believe the poem had the same effect at Cedar Park.

We have a call to live, and oh
A common call to die.
I watched you and my father go
To bid a friend goodbye.
I watched you hold my father’s hand,
How could it not be so?
The gentleness of holding on
Helps in the letting go.

For when we feel our frailty
How can we not respond?
And reach to hold another’s hand
And feel a common bond?
For when we touch the heights above
And every depth below,
We touch the very quick of love;
Holding and letting go.

Guite was the star of the show, no doubt, but the whole evening left one with an abiding sense that the church really can provide a glorious sense – and the reality – of refuge, not by hiding from the world, but by engaging with it.

Janaya Salmond (Daniel Funk photo)

Janaya Salmond (Daniel Funk photo)

A couple of final notes. My comment has focused on Malcolm Guite, but there were other highlights during the evening:

1. The ‘Friends’ were great too. Roy Salmond hosted the show with aplomb. Guite is working on a project at Salmond’s studio, and the timing was fortuitous for the annual hospice event. Janaya Salmond and Corey Janz each played a couple of Christmas songs which were well received.

2. Delta Hospice. The evening was a benefit for the Delta Hospice. Richard Hoews gave a simple, moving testimony to the excellent care his wife received in the last few weeks of her life. His message was crystal clear. When he had given all he could, she was welcomed into a refuge in which she received full-time care from a team of professionals.

Corey Janz (Daniel Funk photo)

Corey Janz (Daniel Funk photo)

3. Cedar Park Church. In thanking Cedar Park for its support, Delta Hospice board president Chris Pettypiece quoted with appreciation the church’s Local Impact web page: “We are always looking to our neighbourhood to see who we can bless, come alongside, help and learn from.”

He pointed out that Cedar Park has helped out for at least five years, with the annual benefit evening, with $40,000 in donations, with a dozen volunteers . . .

1 comment for “Malcolm Guite: Poetry hit home on themes of refugees, and refuge

  1. Donna Gibson
    January 3, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful article and for being able to read these touching poems once again. A lovely tribute to our church and community. I’m so glad you could come to enjoy this special evening with us. Also, what a tremendous job was done by our decorators and servers who made Cedar Park feel like a “warm hug.”

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