Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What is worship? the theology of Francis Webb

And for me always the grave great peace is stronger
In flaring colours, and a laugh, and a careless singer

Two lines from “Cap and Bells” by Australian poet, Francis Webb.

I have been amid much talk of worship and church in the last two days. Talk of liturgy and order, of emotion and diverse giftedness. Sitting in the bath this morning, reading a new found friend, Francis Webb, those two lines quoted above stood out – the gift of colour, the sharing of humanity and celebration of risk.

For me that’s what worship is, a space to encourage humanity. In so doing, it makes Incarnational, possible, what 2nd century theologian Irenaues wrote:

The glory of God is man fully alive

That’s what Webb is articulating, the peace that comes amid colour, laughter, creativity. I want to find those people, those spaces, be part of forming those sorts of Christian communities here in Adelaide

Posted by steve at 08:33 AM


  1. “a space to encourage humanity” – that is a brilliant sentence!

    Comment by Ryan — August 11, 2010 @ 10:21 am

  2. He was a wonderful poet. Shame he didn’t have so many friends while he was alive. But you’re braver than I am; I don’t know that I would want to delve too deeply into the troubled world his poetry came from. For example, what did you make of his next line:

    “Die in the blood and salt of your thoughts.”

    The other Francis (Thompson) is about as troubled as I can cope with in a religious poet. I suppose that just means I understand some sorts of trouble better than others.

    Have you added Stevie Smith to your list of poetic friends yet?

    Comment by Ross McComish — August 11, 2010 @ 11:19 am

  3. never heard of him but that’s a brilliant phrase. and i love his next line too – makes it even better. you must show me.

    Comment by craig — August 11, 2010 @ 10:43 pm

  4. actually, i thought “sitting in the bath” was part of the poetry… i think i only do that on holidays.

    Comment by craig — August 11, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

  5. thanks Craig. it was certainly a rare treat, sitting in the bath, but my soul needed a bit of self-care!


    Comment by steve — August 12, 2010 @ 7:28 am

  6. Ross,

    I think the next line, which is the start of the 3rd verse, continues the theme of the poem. in the 1st verse he’s in a train. he finds it a very secure experience, a sort of deep embodiement, to be surrounded by humanity. hence the lines I quoted.

    The lines you quote are a continuation of that, that sense that it is only in this body that we sense and connect with the world around us,

    Yes, I’m aware of his schizophrenia. Yet also aware of a profound link, a sort of thin space, between spirituality, creativity and mystical God encounters.

    Thanks for the tip re Stevie Smith, I’ll keep my eye open.


    Comment by steve — August 12, 2010 @ 7:33 am

  7. There’s a lot packed into three stanzas, isn’t there? I liked the way the “great grave peace” of the harbour is picked up again in the line you quoted. But I still haven’t worked out who he’s addressing at the start of the third stanza, where the line about blood and salt continues with, “and die when the columns of your sun are thrust aside and broken”. Who is he contrasting with his own choice of “the little, obscure way in the dim shouting vortex”? The reference to Hamlet speaks for itself, though. And I wondered if the cap and bells were an allusion to Yeats’s poem, but decided probably not. All in all, it’s too many years since I studied poetry at all seriously – but I’m very grateful to you for the reminder, Steve. Keep them coming!

    BTW, in case you haven’t come across it yet and want to know more about Webb, I found ‘God’s Fool’ by Michael Griffith very helpful.

    Comment by Ross McComish — August 12, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

  8. So where are you in Adelaide?! I’m looking for that too!

    Comment by Rebecca — August 12, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

  9. Wow, great to hear from you Rebecca. I have responded further by email,


    Comment by steve — August 13, 2010 @ 8:17 am

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