Monday, February 13, 2017

A Question Answered

The question burned in his bones. This had made a mockery of everything he believed, everything he had striven for.  He had always lived his life so carefully, painstakingly carefully. “Ridiculously carefully,” his wife called it. Righteousness before God was a man’s safeguard, his protection from all the great evils of the world – or so he had always thought. Give honour to God and God would give honour to you. That was fairness, that was justice, and if God was not just and fair, then life had no meaning. This had been the lynchpin of his life.

And then his troubles started. In just one day he lost everything: all his children, his herds, his flocks. Outside of some terrible atrocity of war, who had ever heard of such a thing? Only he and his wife were left. How does a man put words to so much anguish? Then, as if that wasn’t enough, as if his soul wasn’t already torn to shreds, his body was afflicted too, with terrible, painful boils, so that even the oblivion of numbness and sleep was denied to him. His wife told him to curse God and die, but he knew that wasn’t the answer. At first his friends sat with him in the silence beyond coherent thought, and he imagined that they grieved with him, and understood, but that delusion did not last long. When their silence gave way to speech, their words fell on his wounds with the bitter sharpness of whips.

They were convinced that he was somehow to blame, that in a just world he must have sinned against God in some way, and this was his punishment. He was devastated. What sort of friendship was this, to turn around and blame the victim? He knew that he was blameless, that his actions would stand up in the very courts of heaven – so who were these men to accuse him?

But the bitter question remained unanswered, tormenting him as much as his outward afflictions. Why? Why should the innocent suffer? How could God do this to him? He had lost everything else, must he lose his faith as well?

Then God spoke, and all his understanding was undone. Who was he to question such majesty? God had designed, with intricate precision, infinite tenderness, every particle of the universe. Every creature, unique and wonderful, was fashioned for His marvellous purposes, reason enough, in itself, for wonder and worship. He, Job, had no knowledge of the great creatures of the deep, he had never heard the morning stars sing together, and had no power to set the limits of the oceans. And if he could not understand the ways of God with brute beasts and mindless rocks, how could he understand the ways of God with man? He knew so little. “I had heard of you with the hearing of my ears,” he said, “but now my eyes see you and I repent in dust and ashes.” It was God himself, and not philosophical speculation, who could answer the riddle of his pain.

And his fortunes were restored. But, centuries later, a greater answer would be given, for God himself would become the innocent victim, lacerated by false accusations, lacerated by whips, and his very life would not be spared. And, as death and suffering themselves were overturned, he would prove to all eternity that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Conflict Resolved

He had always thought she was a good girl. No, that wasn’t the right word. Good girls came in two flavours, in his experience. The first sort were dull and insipid, and afraid of their own shadows. They never had an interesting opinion or an original thought. They were boring, and ultimately rather nauseating, like food without salt. The thought of spending the rest of his life sharing his bed, his hearth and his children with a woman like that made him shudder. Then there was the second sort, so demure and respectable on the outside, so careful of their reputations – but he had seen their roving eyes when they thought no one was looking and their secret amusement at things that were indecent or mean-spirited, and he had no trust in such girls, and was not young enough to be excited by the things they promised but, in his observation, never fully gave. Besides, as a pious Jew, he knew that none but God was truly good.

She was something else, his Mary. Her eyes were honest and clear, and she looked directly at a person when she spoke to them, without downcast eyes or sidelong glances. She spoke from her heart; gently, because her spirit was gentle, but with genuine surprise when others had not seen as she did. She was too young to have learned of the world’s hypocrisy and wanton cruelty, but he suspected that when she did realise these things, it would make no difference to the light in her smile and the truth in her soul. So how could this have happened? How?

He felt like tearing something or breaking something. Mary was with child. Had some careless lout defiled her? Had she been seduced by some cunning foreigner without understanding what was happening to her until it was too late? He tried to think of excuses, of some reasonable explanation that belonged to the world he knew, but at every suggestion she simply shook her head and repeated her crazy story about an angel. Two months ago he would have sworn on every word and jot and tittle of the Torah that she was the sanest and truest person he had ever met, but she would not change her story. And when he pointed out, exasperated beyond measure, that virgins simply did not have children, she simply smiled and agreed and reminded him that she had asked the angel the same question.

What was a man to do? He didn’t want a scandal and he had no desire to shame her, but his trust had been shattered, and the dissonance between who she was and what she must have done was tearing him to shreds. He would put her away quietly, surely that was the only decent thing to do, wasn’t it?

It was late that night when he fell asleep, crushed at last into exhaustion by his grief. And then the angel appeared to him. Not that he had any idea what an angel should look like, but there was no mistaking this glorious one for anything less than a messenger from heaven. And the angel confirmed every strange and troubling word of Mary’s story. She really was still virgin and the child really was from God. This was a great and holy mystery, and he was caught between the flooding relief that Mary still was all that he had believed her to be, and the trembling awe that he was called to walk by her side through these things that were so far from his ordinary wake-a-day world.  Tears of wonder blurred his sight and he could not even name why he wept. He only knew that first thing in the morning he must go and tell her that now he understood.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Gethsemane

The sun screams down.
This is my desert place
In the heart’s geography,
Leaning out from you.

I have seen the dear desires
Fall away into dust, red dust:
Iron of my heart’s blood
Falling away to nothing,
Crumbling into the wind,
With a mouth too dry to sing.

Dragons are in this place,
Small, skittering, spiny,
But these are not our condemnation.
The other dragons, coiled around our hearts,
Whose honey drips with malice,
These are our habitation,
Till we wear their ugliness with pride.

“Go back! Go back!”

Let the children drown,
Let their lives be locked in iron,
Let us turn our foolish backs, imagining,
We can blot out their pain,
While we stand at the point of breaking,
And the three wise monkeys cling tight to our shoulders.

The names ring through our history:
Tampa, Manus, Nauru,
But, with fingers in our ears,
We try to paint our red dust white.

We stand in the ancient garden,
But we will not kneel to pray,
Preferring to send others to the cross,
Denying
The meeting place of blood,
Denying
The communion of our commonality.

While the lone few stand their vigil
We cannot watch one hour.
The babbled excuses of the comfortable
Burn down to bloodless dust,
Our white bones in the desert -
They gleam like whited sepulchres
Until the red dust blows.

Whom, then, do we crucify,
If not the Son of Man?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Different Drummer

All of my life I heard
The rhythm beneath the word:
The call and the music,
The dancing the singing,
The march into truth
And the one clear note ringing.
All of my life I heard
The rhythm beneath the word.

Always I heard its call
Reaching to me through all:
Reaching through seasons
Of falling and fumbling
The din and the chatter
Of all the world’s mumbling.
Always I heard its call
Reaching to me through all.

Always I heard its song
Showing the world was wrong:
Flapping and fussing
And rushing and turning
Selling its soul for
A momentary yearning.
Always I heard its song
Showing the world was wrong.

Always it spoke my name
Having the greatest claim:
Starlight and moonlight
And sunbeams a-dancing
Truth like a sword blade
Direct and not glancing.
Always it spoke my name
Having the greatest claim.

Always I heard its beat
Calling my awkward feet:
Kicking and tripping
And scuffing and sliding,
Till every part of me
Moves to its guiding.
Always I heard its beat
Calling my awkward feet.

Always a step beyond
The path familiar, fond:
Taken in trembling
To unknown places,
Finding my foothold
In alien graces.
Always a step beyond
The path familiar, fond.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The First Time

I think there were 72 of us (though someone made the count only 70). The Master summoned us to himself and gave us clear instructions. We were to go out before him into the towns and villages of Judea who had not yet heard of him. We were to travel light with nothing to fall back on, not even a purse or a spare pair of sandals in case the strap broke. That sounded ridiculous until I remembered what Moses said to the people in the wilderness, that though they had spent 40 travelling in that barren nowhere, still, by an unnoticed miracle of God their clothes had not worn out in all that time. For a moment my attention wandered, when had they realised that this was not normal? After 5 years? Or 10? Or 20? Or had they simply forgotten that clothes wore out until Moses brought it to mind? It would have been something to see their faces when they found out! I could just imagine the dawning amazement as they ran critical eyes over the state of the cloth and the strength of the seams!

But no, I must pay attention now! I didn’t want to let him down by ignoring his instructions. I figured that if we weren’t to take anything for backup, it was because God would see to it that we wouldn’t need it. So I was clear on that, though the “lambs among wolves” bit was a little concerning.

The next part seemed straightforward enough. We were to wish peace on anyone who welcomed us, we were to depart from anyone, or any place, that didn’t.  I was happy with that, it was a workable approach, and I liked having clear instructions to follow. And to eat what was set before us was just good manners. We weren’t some privileged group of people to demand special food and special treatment! (Actually, we were incredibly privileged, but I only dimly grasped it then, because our privilege did not come from the honour other people might bestow on us, but from the wonder of knowing, and being known by the Master, and being called into his service.

But what was this? “Heal the sick and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you.’” We had seen the Master heal the sick, oh, it was one of the things that first drew me to him, as much, if not more, for his compassion as for his power! But now we were to do the same? Who was I that the healing power of God should flow through me?

I trembled. The audacity of such an idea was overwhelming. But the strange thing was that when I looked at Jesus, such an Idea didn’t sound wickedly presumptuous, but merely a simple act of obedience. Perhaps that’s where all true miracles are found, not in any exaltation, but simply in the willingness to keep on obeying in the place where only faith can carry us. So we went forth, two by two, in his blessing and returned in wonder and rejoicing.
 That was then. So much has happened since: his death, his resurrection and the coming of the empowering Spirit. That first time I went forth battling fear, doubt and uncertainty. Now, though there is still so much I do not fully comprehend, I go forth with one great certainty: I am wrapped in his love, I am called to his service, and he who once died for me now lives and reigns forever.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Annunciation 3


The angel brings a lily.
What does she need of this,
When Gabriel’s words shall hurl her
Into a strange abyss?

The angel brings a lily
And brings a word so vast
This step is the beginning,
It shall not be the last.

The angel brings a lily,
Its scent is sweet and strong,
And thoughts and dreams and wonders
Surround her in a throng.

The angel brings a lily
Though frosts still grip the ground.
For only in bright heaven
Is such a flower found.

The angel brings a lily
More white than the new snow
Purer than her heart’s yearning,
For anything below.

The angel brings a lily
Can she decline such gift?
When the world’s hope is offered,
She answers clean and swift.

The angel brings a lily
And in that moment’s span
She glimpses the great marvel
Of God becoming man.
The angel brings a lily
As fresh as morning air;
Her faith borne up like eagles
She bows her head to dare.

The angel brings a lily
She is the chosen one.
She marvels, all-consenting,
The mother of God’s Son.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Annunciation 2

Suddenly she feels
The concavity of darkness
Pushed back by perfect light.

Suddenly she feels
Her mundane hours
Transfigured by eternity.

Suddenly she feels
Undreamt possibilities
Dancing before her eyes,
And chooses simplicity.

Suddenly she feels
All immensity gathered
Into one small space,
And choosing smaller yet.

Suddenly she feels
Herself-and-not-herself
With a calling that questions identity,
An identity still uncalled.

Suddenly she feels
She knows
Accepts
And wonders,
As impossibility becomes her flesh.