Archive for April, 2011

April 29, 2011

Land of heart’s desire

We have just returned from a wonderful few days camping in Sligo and even the seven-and-a-half hour drive home has not taken too much away from the enjoyment of it all. Inspired by being in ‘Yeats Country’, these words come to mind:

“… Land of Heart’s Desire,
Where beauty has no ebb,
decay no flood,
But joy is wisdom,
Time an endless song…”

When surrounded by such natural beauty there is however brief, however imperfect a glimpse of that which is beyond this life; where there shall be no ebb or decay, but an endless song of worship of the One by whom all things came into being…

I apologise to any W.B.Yeats purists who will know that my quote is somewhat out of context, but it is what came to mind as I was trying to photograph Ben Bulben with my newly acquired medium format camera (pictures will be a while as I have to send the films away in the post to be developed). In the meantime here’s some pictures I took with my phone :-)

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Ben Bulben from Rosses Point

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A bit still for sailing!

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Loughanelteen

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April 24, 2011

From despair to joy, grief to hope, darkness to light, death to life.

Early bird ...

Sermon for Easter Sunday.  Text John 20:1-18

The disciples were devastated because their Master, their friend and their Lord had been taken away from them in the cruellest fashion imaginable. He had been beaten and flogged, paraded through a show-trial and sentenced to an agonising death on a cross and hung there between two criminals. It was overwhelming for Jesus’s friends to see and experience this. Some of them ran away and deserted Him, some of them stood by and watched in horror at all that was taking place. As darkness descended it must have seemed that the sun would never shine again, that the world was over, evil had won and that all hope had gone. What little scraps of hope there were was found in the fact that at least they had Jesus’s body, disfigured through suffering but safe now inside a tomb, guarded by soldiers and sealed behind a giant stone. At least Jesus’s friends could go to the tomb, they could weep there, they could try and whisper a few dry, cracked words of prayer…

In John’s gospel, of the women that went to the tomb at dawn on the Sunday morning, the focus is on Mary Magdalene. This Mary doesn’t appear at all in John’s gospel until she stands at the foot of the cross with the other Mary’s, but what an important role she has now. To her shock and dismay she discovers that upon reaching the tomb that the stone which had sealed the entrance had been rolled away. She runs back to tell Peter and John and says to them:

‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ (2b)

On top of everything else that has happened this seems a very cruel blow – they have even stolen the Lord’s body… Peter and John get up and run to the tomb, with the younger John getting there first. John pokes his head through the entrance, with there now being enough daylight to see in and he sees the linen body wrappings lying there. Peter now comes in and true to form there is no waiting or beating-about-the-bush, he just goes right in and he sees the wrappings also, specifically noticing that the separate piece that had been around Jesus’s head was rolled up and apart from the other cloths. What a curious situation this is – if someone had gone to the trouble of taking the body, why had they bothered to unwrap it and even more than that why had they unwrapped it so neatly? It seemed unreal and impossible but perhaps there was an explanation, one that seemed so far-fetched but yet it was the one that Jesus had told them about several times before and that they had seen with their own eyes when Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Yes it had happened, really it had. John, referring to himself as ‘the other disciple’ declares this as the moment of belief. (v.8) Of course John had believed before, he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, sent from God, but this was a whole new depth of belief, a new level of faith and maturity and trust and commitment. It is a bit like that for many of us; we may have been churchgoers all of our lives, we have a certain level of faith, of trust and belief, but then one Sunday perhaps a line of a hymn, some words said in prayer or something that the visiting preacher said spoke to us in a way that we knew it was God speaking to us and it opened up for us a whole new level of belief, faith and commitment; suddenly Jesus was more real to us than ever before and we wanted Him to change us, to forgive us more deeply than we had ever wanted before and He became to us, from that moment on, the most important Person in our life and living for Him then became not only the most important thing in our life, it became the whole point, purpose and meaning of our lives…

So the disciples return to their homes, but Mary stays, weeping. Her Lord is gone, why is He not there? Mary goes to look into the tomb and see for herself and she sees two angels sitting at either end of the place where Jesus’s body had been. The angels ask her why she is weeping and through her tears, Mary says:

‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ (13b)

Perhaps she sensed someone standing behind her, because Mary turns around and the man standing there, whom she does not recognise, says to her:

‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ (15b)

Mary thinks the man is the gardener and so she asks him if he has carried the body away and if he has, may she have it back. The man says to her ‘Mary!’ and at that point she knows. She clings to Him and calls him Rabbi, or teacher. She holds on to Him because she is so overwhelmingly happy to see Him – in the shortest of moments her tears of grief, darkness and despair, have become tears of utter joy, light and hope. Jesus says to her:

‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ (v.17)

There was now going to be a new and deeper relationship with Jesus. Notice how he asks Mary to go to ‘my brothers’ and how he refers to God as ‘your Father’ and ‘your God’. All the barriers had come down. Jesus had risen from the dead – death itself had been ‘swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor. 15:54). A new depth of friendship, a new level of intimacy with Jesus was now possible. Because of what He had done, God the Father was now very much ‘Father’ to all of Jesus’s followers too; they could now be children of God and know God in the same way that Jesus did during His time on earth. Everyone who knocked on the door was now welcome into the Father’s house.

Perhaps that seems an impossible dream to you. You have patiently listened to the reading and all that has taken place in the service this morning but there is a barrier and you know it. But please listen to this, the stone in front of the tomb was seemingly an insurmountable barrier, not to mention the barrier of death itself and Jesus overcame them. Don’t you ever think that the barrier between you and God is an insurmountable one, God knows your life, He knows everything about you and everything you have ever done, but relax, He still loves you anyway and even more than that, He wants to forgive you and He wants to be your Heavenly Father and for you to know Him, love Him and know with every fibre of your being just how very very much He loves you, loves you so much that He gave His own Son to die for you in order that all the bad things you have ever done wrong would be forgiven. Imagine that, He did it all for you. Let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, (thank you that I can call you that), I am so relieved that you know my life and everything that I have ever done and yet You love me anyway. I thought that you would just be angry with me, so I never really bothered to talk to you much before. But when I think of what you did for me through Jesus it blows me away that you would love me, even me that much. I don’t have much to give you Lord except to say that ‘I’m sorry’. I’m sorry for all the bad things that I have ever done and I ask you now to forgive me … Holy Spirit of God, I ask you to come into my heart, into the depths of my being and cleanse me, forgive me and change me. I thank you so much for Jesus, help me to walk in His way, in Your way now and for the rest of my life … Amen.

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Of great help in writing this sermon was Tom Wright’s Book, “John for Everyone” (Part 2), SPCK 2004. ISBN: 978-0-281-05520-3.

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April 22, 2011

Good Friday

Good Friday - the shadow of the cross

April 21, 2011

In the quiet place

In the quiet place

Yesterday gave me an interesting and slightly uncomfortable insight into myself.  Those days before Easter Sunday, ‘Holy Week’ are perhaps the busiest days of the year; there is much to do in the way of visiting parishioners and preparing for the many services which take place.  It is hard to relax much during this season, though I have found that family time in the garden, whether it be kicking a ball around with my sons or just spending precious time with my better half in the late spring sunshine are great antidotes to the stress which inevitably builds up.

So I found myself at a clergy ‘Quiet afternoon’ yesterday, needing to be still, having to be quiet in the midst of the busiest week of the year.  I felt like a sailor trying to steer a ship in the middle of a storm and being asked to let go of the ropes (for a while) and sit down and do nothing.  ‘Preposterous’ my ego was telling me, ‘how could you do nothing at a time like this?’  It was very difficult at first to even sit still and my mind was swilrling with the maelstrom of all that still needs to be done, but slowly, gradually I averted my gaze away from the hectic busyness and focused for a brief but golden moment on what really matters and what it is all about.  Jesus.

This morning I remembered a song by Andy Park.  Perhaps I should listen to it more :-)

In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness You are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for You
’Cause I want to know You more

I want to know You
I want to hear Your voice
I want to know You more
I want to touch You
I want to see Your face
I want to know You more

I am reaching for the highest goal
That I might receive the prize
Pressing ownward, pushing every hindrance aside, out of my way
’Cause I want to know You more

April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Sermon for Palm Sunday 2011.  Text Matthew 21:1-11

What’s the biggest crowd of cheering people you have been a part of?  On Wednesday, I was telling the Lent Bible Study group about when Sonja and I went to ‘March for Jesus’ in London back in our college days.  It was a fantastic experience singing praise songs in a crowd of over 80,00 Christians as we marched past many of the famous tourist sights.

Can you think too of times you have waited and waited for something to happen, depending upon what it was, may be for years and then when it finally did happen it was even better than you had hoped for?  Maybe it was waiting for your team to win the cup, maybe to finally pass an exam or test, perhaps it was waiting for a loved-one to return, but somehow you forgot about the long time waiting once what you had longed for materialised.

The people of Israel had been waiting for centuries for the Messiah to come.  What they were waiting for was a great King who would restore Israel to the ‘good old days’, when they was a great nation under the Kingship of David.  They were looking for a godly and powerful leader who would free them from foreign armies and who would make them into a country they could be proud of and who would be feared among the nations.

Of course the Lord Jesus knew all this and He knew that He was that Messiah and as such He was going to do so much more than what was expected of Him by so many.  He was not going to be merely an earthly King, but a heavenly one, He was going to defeat an enemy far greater than the Romans and His Kingdom would be one that would transcend human boundaries and divisions and even time and space.

So the Lord and his disciples make their way towards Jerusalem, where a thousand years before King David had reigned and He tells two disciples to go ahead to the village of Bethphage and there they will find a Donkey tied up with her Colt and they are to untie them and bring them back to the Lord and if anyone asks what they are doing to reply that “the Lord needs them” (v.4)

Matthew then tells us in his Gospel that this was done to fulfil prophecy, and he quotes from Zechariah (9:9), saying:

‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

Zechariah had spoken these words some five hundred years before and in fulfilling these words Jesus is openly declaring that He is the righteous Davidic Messiah.  The ‘daughter of Zion’ refers to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Matthew tells us that the disciples did as they were directed, they put their cloaks over the animals and it says that Jesus sat on them.  People have of course wondered how Jesus sat on both the Donkey and the Colt, because as we read it that is what it says, ‘and he sat on them’.  This is of course due to the translation into English from the original Greek; ‘them’ means Jesus sat on the cloaks, not on both the animals!  He sat on the Colt and He kept the young animal’s mother close so that the Colt would be much calmer and less afraid as it passed through the crowds on the way into Jerusalem.

So as the Lord makes His way towards the city a very large crowd begins to form and they spread their cloaks on the road and they cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

Have you ever heard the story about Sir Walter Raleigh?  It may or may not be true that one day he was accompanying Queen Elizabeth the first when she was walking along through London, and they came to a place where the ground was particularly muddy and dirty.  He quickly took off his cloak and placed it on the ground so the Queen could walk over without getting mud on her feet. There is something very special about this act, if you lay down your cloak for someone it says that you are celebrating and valuing this person about as highly as you can.  It implies that, if need arose, you would give them anything else you had as well.[1]  So when the crowd spread their cloaks on the road it was to signify that they really believed that this was someone very special indeed that they were celebrating.  Of course many of them would have been familiar with the story of King Jehu in the Hebrew Scriptures, where everyone took off their cloaks and laid them on the bare steps and the trumpet was blown declaring him King (2 Kings 9:11).  Palm branches had been long associated with Jewish nationalism and victory over enemies; they were a prominent symbol at the feast of the tabernacles, on Jewish coins and in synagogue decorations.[2]

So the crowd was very excited and they kept shouting:

‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ (v9)

‘Hosanna’ means ‘O Save’ and ‘Son of David’ acknowledges that Jesus is the Davidic Messiah.

And so this all caused quite a reaction, the crowd were certain that after hundreds of years of anticipation, the waiting was finally over, their Messiah, their Saviour, their Rescuer, Deliver and Redeemer had come. The city was in an uproar and expectations could not have been higher.

But we know what happens next and how fickle crowds can be.  Just days later a crowd would assemble again, but this time with the very different chant of ‘crucify him, crucify him’ (27:23).

The Lord Jesus of course knew that the people had been waiting for centuries for Him to come and He also knew that their expectations had become distorted over those centuries, but He had to answer their expectations not in the way that they wanted Him to but in the way that was right.  How often have we asked God for something in prayer only to be relieved later on that He didn’t answer the prayer exactly as we had wanted Him to?  Jesus, the doctor had come to heal the sickness of sin and it was going to cost Him His life.  You see He was going to answer their prayers to be rescued but He was going to do so at a much deeper level than they were expecting; He was going to free them from sin and evil in its full depths, not just the surface evil of Roman occupation and exploitation.[3]

Bishop Tom Wright sums it up like this:

“Once you invite Jesus to help, he will do so more thoroughly that you imagined, more deeply than perhaps you wanted.  If you invite an accountant to help you with your income tax return, you mustn’t be surprised if she goes through all your other financial affairs as well, to make sure she’s got everything right.”[4]

The people had welcomed and invited Jesus but turned on Him when what He did failed to match their expectations.  Of course the same is true today, many start off the Christian life full of excitement but when the going gets tough or when we realise that we need to surrender all of our life to Jesus all of the time then the temptation to turn away from Him and do our own thing can be very great indeed.  Sadly I have seen this happen, people who were once all fired-up for God who now show no evidence at all of a life of faith.  We need to be on our guard that this does not happen to us, we need to look out for each other, particularly when someone is going through a difficult time but perhaps even more so when someone is going though a very good time, because it is then that we are most vulnerable to be tempted to think that we don’t need Jesus.  Of course we do need Jesus, we need Him now and we need Him always.  Let us pray:

Dear Lord Jesus, we welcome you now to come into our hearts and lives in the fullest possible way.  Help us to acknowledge you now and at all times as our Lord and Saviour, and to stay with you through both the good times and the bad times.  Help us to surrender all of our life to you and allow you to change us, shape us and mould us into your image and will.  This we ask in Your name, Amen. 


[1] Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone Part 2, SPCK 2002, p.66

[2] ESV Study Bible, Crossway 2008, margin notes, p.1865

[3] Tom Wright. p.68

[4] Ibid. p.68,69

April 14, 2011

Goodbye OM-1

Goodbye to my OM-1 :-(

I am not usually one for impulse buying (or any kind of buying for that matter) but there are a few photographic ambitions that I aspire to and one of them is to have a medium format camera.  So I was browsing the Ffordes website and came across a bargain, a Fuji GA645zi for £345…

Now I know that is fairly meaningless to a lot of people but for me it was an exciting moment (doesn’t take much though).  So it is on its way from Scotland  and I’m really looking forward to seeing if I made a huge mistake or whether it will have been a great purchase.  The main benefit will be much larger negatives of 56 x 42mm as opposed to 35 x 24mm, which means much sharper and more three-dimensional looking pictures (the bigger the negative or digital sensor in a camera the better the pictures will look, though of course it has to be a worthwhile photo in the first place!)

The downside is that I do not have that kind of spare cash so I have to sell something to make way for the new arrival.  Unfortunately it’s got to be the OM-1, a camera that will be hard to part with and I know that I will miss.  It’s up on ebay now if you fancy a bid ;-)

Here’s a few photos from the OM-1 from the last couple of years…
Stroll around the garden 2

1009reala038

One of my first black and white pictures…

Galley Head, Co. Cork

Had to put this last one in because it was with the now sadly discontinued Kodachrome…

Kodachrome 6

April 12, 2011

and Jesus wept

Rainy Day 2

Better late than never, for those who are interested, here is last Sunday’s sermon.  The text is John 11:1-45 (Year A, 5th Sunday in Lent).

Have you ever been frustrated with God?  Have you have prayed and prayed about something and it appears that God is ignoring you?  We pray for justice, for peace, for healing and often we are left wondering if God even heard our prayer.  To give you a very trivial example, a few years ago, Sonja and I were camping on the edge of a forest in North Wales, it was a beautiful place, but during the night there was a ferocious storm.  As I lay in the tent with the noise of the wind so loud there was little chance of any sleep I could not help but worry about what would happen if even just one branch were to fall from a height onto our tent.  Of course Sonja had and has far greater faith than me and so she slept soundly through the whole night! I prayed that God would stop the wind and branches from falling but it kept on blowing, even harder if anything!  I began to get sulky with God and eventually fell into a restless and grumpy sleep.  The next morning we awoke to a beautiful calm and sunny morning and I realised that my prayer had in fact been answered, the wind had stopped, just as I had asked and even more than that, no branches had fallen on us!  I was taught a lesson which I am still learning, that God’s timing is often very different from ours.

Of course, we can all think of examples in our own lives and many far more serious than the one I have shared with you.  Why didn’t God act when we wanted Him to and in the way we wanted him to?  In our reading from John’s gospel, we get the beginnings of an answer.  Jesus and the disciples are a couple of days journey away when Jesus gets a message that his friend Lazarus is ill.  Now we would expect that upon hearing this news Jesus would get up and immediately set out on a journey to be with his friend, but what does He do, he stays where he is for another two days and He doesn’t even tell the disciples!

Once the two days are up, he tells his disciples that they are going to go back to Judea, which immediately sets the alarm bells ringing for them, they know that there are many down there who want to kill Jesus, and perhaps that is one of the reasons for Jesus’ delay; He has spent the two days in prayer, in preparation for what will happen once He does make His way into such a dangerous situation, where there are those who want to stone Him.  This is what He says to the troubled disciples:

‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight?  Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.  But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ (v.10)

Following Jesus is sometimes very difficult, but it is always the right thing to do, His is always the right path to take, even when that path leads to danger and perhaps death, as Thomas feared.  When we were talking about this at the Bible study on Wednesday, someone reminded us of those wonderful verses from Romans 8:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38,39)

So not even death will separate us from Christ.  Perhaps the disciples are just beginning to realise this as they make their way.

When they arrive after their journey, they learn that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  There can be no doubt whatsoever that he is dead.  Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha are also good friends of Jesus and when they hear that He is coming Martha goes out to meet Him, but Mary stays behind.  What must Martha be thinking?  Perhaps she is upset, maybe even cross that Jesus did not come sooner, she says:

‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ (v.23)

Martha knows Jesus well enough to show remarkable faith and composure.  Even so, she does not fully grasp the Lord’s response when He says to her:

‘Your brother will rise again.’ (v.23)

Martha thinks that Jesus is talking about the resurrection on the last day, a belief that most Jews (and subsequently all Christians hold).  What Martha is yet to grasp is that Jesus is resurrection personified, and so He says to her in one of the seven famous ‘I am’ sayings of John’s gospel:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’ (v.25, 26)

After telling Jesus of her belief in Him, Martha goes back to get her sister and a number of others come with them as they return to Jesus.  Mary then falls at Jesus’ feet and says to him:

‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ (v.32)

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of what happens next, because in a moment it can shatter the false view that many people have of God; people often accuse God of not caring, of not understanding, of not knowing what it is like to grieve or to suffer or to be in pain, ‘how could an all-powerful God know my frailty and suffering and hurt?’  Do you know what?  He does.  Jesus sees Mary weeping, and in that moment God cries.  It is the shortest verse in the whole Bible; “Jesus began to weep.”

When you are in the place of tears you are never ever alone, your Creator, Saviour, Master and Friend, your Lord and your God knows what it is to weep also.  Your pain is never only your pain; in some incredible and mysterious way He shares it with you.

Jesus then asks, ‘Where have you laid him?’ (v.34) and they bring Him to the tomb.

The tomb is a cave, which has a stone rolled across the entrance.  Jesus calls for the stone to be removed but Martha says there will be a bad smell because Lazarus had been dead for four days.  But there is no stench, because the One who will Himself conquer death on the cross has done something that only God could do.  He looks upwards and says:

‘Father, I thank you for having heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ (v.42)

And so Jesus demonstrates in a very powerful way that He is indeed ‘the resurrection and the life’, as he says in a loud voice:

‘Lazarus, come out!’ (v.43)

The dead man is no longer dead, he is bound in cloths wrapped around him and Jesus says to unbind him and let him go.

Imagine that you were there and what it would have been like.  It would have been perhaps terrifying and wonderful and holy and beautiful and surreal all at the same time.  Finding the strength to even stand, let alone speak would have been difficult.  Imagine the hugs as Lazarus’ sisters and friends greet him for whom they had been in mourning (and how that may be like the reunions there will be for us in the next life).  Imagine the wide-eyed and open-mouthed disciples – they had seen a lot with Jesus but never anything like this.  Imagine the sceptics and those on the fringes – the Messiah had come, of that there was no doubt, He was here at last, the waiting was over.

And what about us, what benefit is this event that John so faithfully records in his gospel?  Firstly “Jesus weeps”, I think we have already dealt with that one, but remember this, your tears, your pain, your loss, your grief are His also, if you will share them with Him.

Secondly, even death is no barrier with God.  Yes we will die, all of us, that is an undisputed fact. But Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  When we die, we will rise again and in Jesus we have light to show us the way and in Him we have life, eternal life, so that we need not be afraid.  If we follow Him now we will be with Him always.  Follow Him now, while it is still day and before the night comes and it is too late… Amen.

April 11, 2011

Charlie

Charlie

We were heading out as a family on Friday evening and had just driven a few hundred metres onto the main road when we saw the body of our cat ‘Charlie’ lying there.  He had only recently been knocked down as his body was still warm and limp, though quite lifeless.  I carried him home and we buried him in the garden the next morning.

I remember reading a church magazine years ago where there was a section called ‘The Wise Owl”.  People wrote letters (this was before the days of email) asking questions about the Christian life and the Wise Owl would answer.  I remember one letter written by a young boy whose dog had died, asking if his dog would go to heaven.  The Wise Owl said ‘no’ (albeit in a very long-winded fashion).  I could not help but think the the Owl may be wise, but sensitive and gracious he was not.

I would like to think that Scripture is silent on the issue because it is not something we need to know.  Perhaps in the life that is to come we may be surprised by many things and one of those surprises might just possibly be a reuniting with those pets whom we have loved and lost.  I hope so anyway.

April 8, 2011

Growth

Some recent photos of things coming to life (at last) …
Growth


Daffodils (in case you were wondering)


Growth


After the rain

Tulips are back!

 

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All photos taken with Nikon F100 film camera and Nikkor 28-105 D lens (except the last one taken with Nikon D70s digital camera but using the same lens).  Film used was Kodak Ektar 100 and Kodak Portra 160VC.

April 6, 2011

Early Spring

Lines Written in Early Spring, William Wordsworth (1798) (Link)

Early Sunday Morning 

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:–
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?