“Sculpting space, holding colours” / Mark Pryce on poetry and reflective practice in ministry

“I need all the rage I can muster / to keep this calm; to sculpt space / to hold shifting, fragile colours.
I marvel at how midwives day by day / caress women into their own artistry, / weaving love like expectant shawls.
I am the last to stoke the wood / that bears this ending; gathering enough fragments of courage / to let it fall through my fingers chanting hope, forgiveness, dust.”

—-Manon Ceridwen Jones, “The Priest at the Funeral.” (www.manonceridwen.wordpress.com/poems, October 21, 2012)

This is one of the poems discussed in a brilliant new book I have just read and endorsed by Mark Pryce: Poetry, Practical Theology and Reflective Practice.

https://www.routledge.com/Practical-Theology-Poetry-and-Reflective-Practice/Pryce/p/book/9781472484253

Mark’s work will be appreciated by many people who like liturgy: his Finding a Voice, on “women, men, and the community of the church” (London: SCM Press, 1996), with it’s extraordinary chapter on silence and it’s gospel meditations, was a great discovery for me when new to parish ministry. That book paved the way for Mark’s lovely “literary companions” to the lectionary and festivals (London: SPCK, 2001 and 2003j which gather poems for Sundays and feast days through the year, as well as his more recent work on the gospels with colleagues Paula Gooder and James Woodward, Journeying with Matthew/Mark/Luke/John (London: SPCK, 2013, 2011, 2012, 2014 respectively).

Most has also collaborated with others on Making Nothing Happen (London: Routledge, 2014) exploring poetry and spirituality, with his own contribution on “becoming a Christian poet.” This new book now relates his vocation as a poet to his “day job” as Officer for Continuing Ministerial Education in the Diocese of Birmingham in the Church of England. In a culture of increasing “targets” of competency for clergy—no doubt important in their own way—Mark plots a more expansive course to surface, map and honour the wisdom that well-formed religious professionals can carry. He uses poems to invite their voices, personal perspectives and shared wisdom on ministry, including its liturgical aspects. It’s a moving read to witness their responses to the poems and engagement with each other in their reading, and the book is a brilliant example of practical theology as a genre that probes at truth too complex to fit simply into propositions.

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Photos below by Stephen Burns, around Birmingham: the Bullring, the public library, and art and baptismal font at The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education.

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