Ordinary Saints

The ordinary saints, the ones we know,
Our too-familiar family and friends,
When shall we see them? Who can truly show
Whilst still rough-hewn, the God who shapes our ends?
Who will unveil the presence, glimpse the gold
That is and always was our common ground,
Stretch out a finger, feel, along the fold
To find the flaw, to touch and search that wound
From which the light we never noticed fell
Into our lives? Remember how we turned
To look at them, and they looked back? That full-
-eyed love unselved us, and we turned around,
Unready for the wrench and reach of grace.
But one day we will see them face to face.

Ah, but we want so much more— something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else -which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

cf. C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory”

There is a presence and an absence here;
The artist sets himself aside, leaves space
For his shy muse. Descending from her sphere

She shimmers through his touch and brush, which place
These faint suggestions of her presence, where
She arches just behind him, full of grace.

He looks another way, as though aware
That turning round to see would frighten her.
He cannot see, we cannot help but stare,

Where light and shade, informing one another,
Call forth the forms that haunt his staring eyes;
Beauties from which not one of us recover.

Beauties of gold and green appear and rise
Behind him like the walls of the Duomo
Which hold the body and its mysteries,

For he has summoned them, like Prospero,
Spirits of air and fire, water, earth,
They haunt him now and will not let him go

Until he paints for them the secret path
Whereby they might grow visible at last,
Until he brings them to their proper birth.

And in their presence we are found and lost:
What finds us here is haunting, numinous,
And opens out the secret of our past

That longing, inconsolable, within us
For beauty, yes, and yet for something more,
Not just to see the lovely, luminous

Appearances of nature, but to pour
Ourselves into and through them, to receive
Them into us, till beauty, grace, and power

Become the very world in which we live,
The air we breathe, the light by which we see,
And we are one with all the things we love.

And what we lose is our complacency;
The daily comfort of the commonplace,
Our cherished substitutes for grace and glory.

These lines of longing in us somehow trace
A portrait of the Artist who has made us
And waits for us to turn and see his face.

Portrait of the Artist’s Father

Here is your father, looking out at us
From this dark room where shadows furl and fold,
Patiently present to whoever comes,
Still on his battered sofa, at his ease.
He looks out from the darkness of the world,
The copper blotch and mottle of old time
Whose tarnishes and patina reveal
Strange beauty in the saints we love and leave,
Whose leaving leaves us burnished as we grieve.
He meets us here, at home in his own skin,
Which holds more colours than the eye can trace,
More substance, more humanity and grace
Than paint on wood can possibly contain,
All in the clarity of his kind face.

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother

Red over gold and under gold a wound
Whence life itself in blood and water flows,
A branch is broken but the tree still grows
The scar is over-layered with bark, a space
Which opens through the gold to blood-stained ground.
And now the wood itself presents her to us,
That wound above her opens out to us,
But cannot yet disclose its inwardness,
So she herself, beneath it, leaning out,
And looking past us is still holding in,
The singing soul still shining through her skin.
A different darkness and a different light
Kindle her eyes, which hold us for a while,
And see more sorrow than there’s time to tell.

A Portrait Meg

All portraits carry something of the icon,
Some inkling of the light behind the sill
Of all our seeming, of the unquenched beacon
Whose radiance we never see, yet feel
Just under everything. But here that cross
Of light is made explicit, shines behind
A woman’s strength and beauty, all the wise
And humorous awareness in her eyes,
The sense you have of her quick-piercing mind,
Unflinching, yet compassionate. You trace
The lines of a long love, and a strong heart,
The to and fro of healing and of hurt.
You could not hold a falsehood to this face,
Or not for long, before that open gaze.


His father and his mother make the man
The man he is. We see them looking out
From his keen eyes and vulnerable face,
Grandparents too, whose portraits we have seen
Make up the picture. No-one’s out of place
Yet everyone’s unique. We do not doubt
That all Ben’s forbears come to play their part,
The artist’s healing and the healer’s art,
In making this physician. As we gaze
Compassion and determination blend
In one expression, something of strange grace
And sorrow here contend, more than a trace
Of suffering is here transmuted too,
To be redeemed in One who makes us new.


There is a frame, a ground where green and brown
Predominate, and there are lines and squares
Marked out, half visible, like blocks of time.
Above some golden section shadows fold
In wide wings like the angel of the North
That they too might be pierced with golden light
And summoned by their maker to come forth.
Each surface offers new shapes and suggestions;
An ancient ship, a fossil in the sand,
A broken lintel and a marble frieze,
And, deft and delicate, just to her left
A faint trace of the muse she incarnates.

But none of these can frame her holy flesh,
Its mystery unmakes each symmetry.
Her face is gentle and contemplative
But in her eyes a yearning, journeying
Far-seeing, pilgrim spirit brightly burns,
And brings to light both passion and compassion.
The light shines on the right side of her face
You cannot see its source until you see
That suddenly the flow and line of sight
Itself has been reversed. She is the source,
Or has the source within her. Gentle light,
A soft and searching light that flows from Eden
Is lifting from this picture into you
For she is lucent, lucid, lovely, golden,
And clothes the light with her tranquility
Admired Miranda, marvel, miracle.

She looks at you, she looks you into love
She looks you into quiet contemplation
Till you are yearning too, not to possess,
Or to desire, but just to contemplate,
Until these broken bars of shade and shape,
These soft green folds around a human form,
The warm tones of this woman, looking out,
And all the gentleness she bodies forth
Have entered you entirely, until
These kindlings and glimmerings of grace
Outface you and you see her face to face


Gaze on this painting, let it gaze on you.
A child looks out, but you are looking in,
And what will you allow yourself to see?
Gold and silver, moongold leaf on wood,
The image and the likeness of a tree,
Rooted and grounded in a deeper soil
Than any tilled on earth, refreshed by rain
From gentler heavens, open to a light
That kindled light before the sun was made,
Here in the garden you have never left,
The secret nesting place within your soul.
And if you will, perhaps the child in you,
Still perched and nested in that inner tree,
Will gaze a while on Will, who gazes out,
And recognise afresh the hidden power,
And open wisdom of his innocence,
Calling to your abandoned innocence,
And offering return. Still offering
A chance to draw from deeper roots than sin,
To be and to be borne upon that tree
Whose leaves are for the healing of the world;
A condition of complete simplicity
Costing not less than everything.
So, even as you turn away, you long
To turn again, as Earth-turn in the spring,
Back to the Light from whence we all arise.


In every child a cosmos is concealed
In every child a cosmos is revealed

Firefly! Firefly!
Dancing light in my sky,
Let me dance where you fly
Kindle, little firefly,
Sparks that dance as thoughts fly,
Light the way my firefly,
And by your light I’ll lead you
In the dance

And a little child shall lead them
In the dance.

And a little child shall lead us
To dance before the fountain
That rises before we rise
That plays before all time flies
That conjures before our eyes
The stars up in the night skies,
For galaxies are fireflies,
Beneath God’s holy mountain,
And a little child shall lead us
In the dance

And a little child shall lead them
In the dance.

And a little child shall lead us
And in green pastures feed us
For he alone has freed us
And a little child shall lead us
In the dance

Firefly! Firefly!
Dancing light in my sky
Let me dance where you fly
Kindle, little firefly,
Sparks that dance as thoughts fly,
Light the way my firefly,
And by your light you’ll lead me
In the dance.

Sitting for Bruce

1 Prepared

This flat wood, covered with its squares of gold,
Through which my blurred reflection comes and goes,
Will one day hold my image; it will hold
The face I cannot see up to the world.
For now, it keeps its secret, only shows
Across its bright gold-leaf some scars and flaws
And one thin streak of red, an open wound,
From which I’m told my portrait will emerge.

Till then this waiting space will hold its charge;
The strong potential of its golden ground,
A light behind my back, before my mind,
A blaze beneath the sill of what I am,
That tells me I am always on the verge,
Of something that I haven’t yet become.

2 Abraded

Bruce Herman takes a sander to the gold
To shape my likeness in the clay and dust
His hands are bleeding as he takes a hold
Of this abrasion, for he knows he must
Unmake the thing he’s made to make it better.
He opens out and flays the gold and clay
Unveiling shapes and painting with the sander,
I see my face half-formed, and look away.

He takes me back to all that grinds me down
Strips my defenses, leaving me exposed,
I flinch back from the form he has disclosed
As though I had been opened to the bone
He is not finished. Now he paints through pain
The subtle strokes that make me whole again.

3 Finished

For I am incomplete, my mirrors show
No more than flaws and fragments as they pass,
The selves I lose, that mock me as they go,
And leave me trembling by the darkened glass.
I do not see the face that once I had
Nor can I see the one I will become,
Flitting between a shadow and a shade
I was, I was, I whisper, not I Am.

And then comes One who calls me from my ruin,
As from this bricolage of dust and stain,
He works to build what I have broken down,
Outfaces me, and finds my face again,
Just as this artist summons me to see
How grief and joy and time might finish me.


I love the colours and the textures here,
I love the way that Kenny shines in them
With keen attention, a mischievous grin,
And all the child-like wisdom of the seer.
God, who came down, sends out the ones with Downs
As children of the kingdom, signs of joy,
To teach us life again. Our riches cloy;
Our slick sophistication weaves us round
With snares and sneers; a wan, world-weary gauze
Covers the radiance of God’s creation,
We give a hasty glance, we never gaze.
But Kenny greets us here with pure elation
And speaks God’s grace with gratitude and glee,
An ordinary angel, who can see.

Portrait of Freya

To Gaze Until We See You: A Portrait of Freya

After the lover, who may gaze with grace,
The portrait painter is the one who gazes
With most complete attention on your face,
And draws you out of all this world’s strange mazes.
You watch him as he woos you into being,
Your tender soul is summoned by the brush,
And by the gentle way he has of seeing
The young girl in the woman make her wish.

And so his brush descends and re-ascends,
Softens with depth, and mirrors your descent
And re-ascent, as Love himself descends
To mend all broken beauty. You assent
To life’s long summons, gracefully consent
To gaze, until we see you face to face.

Crossing The Lines: A Portrait of Osamu Fujimura

The straight frame of this painting and these squares
Whose fracture-lines of crackled black and gold,
Trace beauty in the trauma of their making,
All these cannot contain or circumscribe
The human face whose mystery compels us
To meet his gaze with ours. Beauty and pain
In equal measure look out from his eyes,
His silver hair, the warm tones of his skin
Are graced with lines of wisdom. The firm lines
Around his mouth, the lines that seal his lips
Speak without words a wisdom of restraint,
And we are drawn towards him. For this face
Crosses the lines that intersect like graphs,
Traces a shape of pure anomaly,
An unexpected grace that breaks the frame
Of everything we used to think we knew:
A new coherence enters time and space.

Osamu Fujimura sees beyond;
Not just beyond this frame of wood and paint,
But out beyond the frame of all our thought.
He has a mind that probes each paradigm,
That goes behind the seeing to the source;
The genesis of things. As generative
Grammar gives the form and flow of thought
Before our meanings harden into words,
So too a father’s generative love
Becomes a source of generosity,
A root of grace and beauty for the son.
In peace he passes on, from heart to heart,
The living science that becomes an art.

A Portrait of Leslie

Out of the turbulence, out of the wild
Haphazardness of background strokes, the brush
Still finds its form and forms her face:
So full of life and, lovely, like a child
Still making her own mischief, with a rush
Of energy. And yet we also trace
A woman’s wisdom in her concentration
On the still point, the whole point of it all,
Which was and is and always will be love:
Creative love and love in all creation.
This painting finds the poet in her, all
The heighth and depth she bodies forth as form,
To find her balance on the point of love,
When lovers know there’s nothing left to prove.

A Portrait Leslie

A Portrait of Scott Cairns

We face a man who’s been out to the edge.
All of us harrow Hell, but none can come
Through Paradise unscathed. From the high ledge
Of the holy mountain few come home
To bring us news, and help us share the burden:
Christ’s beauty and His sorrow, meeting us
In every place and person, lest we harden
Our hearts to Him, lest we avert our gaze

From God’s iconostasis, flickering
In the strong faces of his ordinary saints
Lit by their little fires and beckoning
Us on with them to Heaven. Cross-light slants
Onto this picture of Christ’s scathing grace:
A poet’s burdened and unburdened face.

The Golden Shadow Box

A portrait of Susie Chan

We look, as from the branches of a tree,
Down into the golden shadow box
That is our fleeting world, and there we see
Susie at work as though she were at play,
Preparing food for friends. Not all the clocks
And countdowns of old Time can take away
From this clear moment, this eternal now,
This present all lit up with golden rays,
And held in heaven by the Saviour’s grace,
Sufficient for us, just as it is given.
For His Love met her hospitality,
To lift her from these shadows, to the bough
Of that great tree whose branches are in heaven,
Whose roots she deepened by her charity.


A gift herself, she holds the open gift
Of God’s good word, which is her daily bread
And her delight. The sacred pages spread
Across her lap, and still her bright eyes lift,
Her finger points beyond these words towards
The Word himself in whose love she is held,
That she might share his love for all the world.
The Word that radiates through all the words
In every open Bible, speaks through her.
He breathes her into being for us all,
And even in the evening of her day
The promise of the coming dawn shines clear
Like light reflecting from old wood. Christ’s call
Is just as clear; she smiles and points the way.


A Shared Motif

A portrait of the Shaw Family

To be a person is to be a gift,
Given in love. For each of us receive
The gift of being from another and we lift
Each other into light with every glance,
Given and returned in this long dance.
We have become ourselves through fathers, mothers,
All whose traces, and whose grace-notes, leave
Us all the more the people that we are.

Playing for others, in our turn, we hear
Our own tune, in a new key, played by others.
So with this family: each at their ease,
Relaxed within themselves, and yet aware
Of one another, as a simple grace
Sounds its soft motif through the quiet air.

A Portrait of JAC Redford

As though the oceanic blue and green
Of seas off Maui, or more perilous,
The seas of Perelandra, green and gold,
Where every atom sings, all tales are told,
Were surging here, their echoes blessing us
With music from another sphere, JAC’s face
Emerges and his music can be seen:
The colour of his sound is light on skin,
The light of kindness kindled in his eyes.
The same light that makes ‘plough down sillion shine’
Sings in the lines that lift from off these seas,
Lift with exuberance and energy
And thrill us into silence, till the grace
We have evaded meets us face to face.

A Portrait of Jeremy Begbie

Out of a latticework of black and gold,
The background of our glory and disgrace,
He looks intently, with the eye of one
Who knows he is redeemed, and at what price.
So, in his piercing glance, the tale is told,
The light of Love shines back from flesh and bone,
The pierced light of the Logos pierces us.
As many colours make the tone of flesh
As there are timbres, colours, in the tone
Of music’s grief and praise. Three single notes
Will form one chord. The heart’s song moves from harsh
And exiled dissonance through broken nights,
Moves darkly through the tension of the cross
To resolution, homecoming, and grace.

Ordinary Saints: Epilogue

And now we turn our eyes from wood and paint
To contemplate the saints in flesh and blood,
The ones who’ve seen these pictures with us. Faint
Traces of God’s image, and his glad
Presence in humanity, have shone
Awhile for us in paintings on a wall,
The dark glass brightened, and the shadows gone.
How shall we know each other now? Will all
That we have seen recede to memory?
Or is our sight restored, and having gazed
On icons in this place, will clarity
Transfigure all of us? We turn, amazed,
To see the ones beside us, face to face,
As living icons, sacraments of grace.