Monday, July 06, 2015

On Planning a Holiday

I, who am too in love with big ideas,
Preferring, always, concept to the concrete,
Subtly gnostic,
More wedded to the feeling than the fact,
And wont to drown
In a cascade of details,
Must here take hold of hope
And wade me through.

I, who find
The mists of history indwelt by my kind,
Where every story wears a human name,
And ever passion leads to joy or shame,
(Or both, because our tales are rarely small),
Would wander castles, put down roots in time,
Dazzled by daydreams of what might have been,
Yet knowing I can never see them all,
Must choose a route that touches some of this.

I, who have walked
Cathedrals, and have felt the weight of prayer
Bear down on me from countless counted years
In benison or challenge.
Who were the saints who sanctified this place
With patient faith and sacrificial trust?
And, all the more,
How can I learn from them?

I, who hold
A whole world in imagination’s hand –
Worlds beyond worlds if only feet could reach …
Must tie me down into the tangible,
Must walk through timetables, prices and maps,
Cities and flightpaths, distances to drive,
Weathers and wearinesses,
Websites too,
And draw a line of best fit through them all,
A path that we can follow with delight,
And stretch our hearts, and find in everywhere
One still, small voice that always calls us home.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Sydney Winter

Here, at the nadir of the year
Long-slanted sun, pale yellow on the ground,
And shadows etched out,
Dark-edged and precise.

I have heard magpies
Singing sweetness back
Into these ebb-tide days,
This time withdrawn:
Drained out, laid bare,
The skeleton time when some trees naked stand,
And others rattle dull leaves in the wind.

And wattles blaze
In fiery, brilliant gold
Against the cold
And life leans back
Against their gathered light.

My blood grows thin
As winters pass,
Each swifter than the last;
The cold more keen
Cuts to the bone my self-illusioned strength,
I wait,
Less patiently,
For days of length.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Conflict

It is all too easy to start out with love and end up with ambition, to start out in a rush of admiration and conviction, putting everything else aside for the sake of the one in whom you had glimpsed, in that transcendent moment, the glory of God, but then you let other motives intrude. They had been there then, on that day, by the Sea of Galilee, engrossed in their mundane tasks when He had come to them (to them!!!!) and told them to cast aside their nets, and follow Him, and He would make them “Fishers of Men.” They weren’t quite sure what that meant, what that could mean, but there was a hard, bright glory in those words, and something about Him that was different to every other man they had ever met.

Of course it wasn’t easy being the disciples of an itinerant preacher with no home of His own, and they were very aware of the things that they had given up for His sake, but His words were like springs of living water, and the signs and the wonders He performed turned their whole world inside out. He confused them and sometimes annoyed them, expecting and proclaiming impossibilities, but they would no more have forsaken Him than they would have forsaken their own beating hearts. And gradually their confidence grew.

He talked a lot about the “kingdom”, and since by then they believed Him to be the promised Messiah, it was inevitable that eventually they would start to speculate what their own role in this coming kingdom might be. Obviously, as His first disciples, they would be very, very important, but how would that work? Some would obviously be more important than others, and, since Jesus said nothing on the subject, they wondered how this would be decided. Of course, being human, they each started marshalling their arguments to support their own case:

“Well, I believed in Him first.”

“I have cast out demons in His name.”

“I was with Him when …”

Tensions escalated, grumblings increased. Each of them had a secret dream of being the one in charge, His right hand man, a person of great glory. Each of them made his own case for superiority over the others. Things were starting to get tense. In the end they had to ask Jesus, they had to resolve this. “Which of us is the greatest?” they asked.

He took His time. He looked each of them in the eye in that uncomfortable way He had that made each of them feel that the secret thoughts of their hearts were not as glorious as they had imagined, but actually rather shabby and shoddy. They stood there, almost shuffling their feet with awkwardness. Somehow the question, which had seemed so urgent a moment before, now seemed rather silly.

Then Jesus turned away from them and called a little child to come over and stand with them. What was He about? Jesus looked at them, looked at the child, and then back at them again. “I tell you,” He said, “unless you change, unless you give up your hunger for power and position, and become a nobody, like a small child, and humble yourselves, you haven’t begun to understand my Kingdom. Whoever is willing to let go of power, and pride and prestige, he is the greatest in the Kingdom.”

Friday, June 12, 2015

Lost and Found

It was marvellous to be a newborn member of the Shepherd’s flock. The pastures were so lush and green that, even though many sheep were sharing the same meadow, it took no effort at all to find the softest, juiciest grass to eat. And, when she had eaten her fill, there was plentiful water to drink: water so still and clear that even a young lamb felt safe bending her head to drink from it. She ran and leapt and giggled with the other young lambs, but, just before the point where her tiredness would begin to make her disagreeable, the Shepherd would be right there (how did He keep watch on each one of them individually?) and He would make her lie down and rest. It was the most beautiful place, the happiest life, and she would gaze at the Shepherd in grateful adoration for the life He had given her.
Imagine her shock when, one day, the Shepherd said that it was time for the flock to move on. Looking around she realised that the grass was all cropped and the waters were growing muddy. She accepted, reluctantly, that she must follow the Shepherd away from this tranquil place.

But the route he took were like nothing she had expected. There were no rich pastures here. That was all gone. Oh there was enough, she didn’t starve, but there was never the more-than-enough which she craved. The paths were long and narrow, and it was hard to stay obedient to the Shepherd – to stop when the Shepherd said to stop, to keep going when the Shepherd said to keep going, to not wander off and munch on those tempting green plants which the Shepherd said would only do her harm. She wasn’t always obedient, but the Shepherd was always there to protect her when she most needed saving from herself. And in the journey she grew stronger, and learned to trust Him more, though she still longed for the rich pastures which had gone.

She needed that strength. For now the Shepherd led them through a terrible place, and she trembled for her very life. The drops were sheer, the paths were narrow, and there was a great darkness hovering over every hesitant step she took. Some sheep whispered that it was called the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It took all the obedience she had learned to keep going. But whenever the danger was greatest, somehow the Shepherd was always there to rescue her, and to shield her from destruction.

Eventually the nightmare was over. Many times she longed for the green pastures, but there was no going back. Now they had reached a flat and level place, and the Shepherd told them to stop. Yes there was rich grass here, but there were other plants growing among them which would kill the sheep. He must root these out before they could safely eat. And the sheep, impatient with hunger, huddled close together as they heard the howling of wolves in the background. They knew that their Shepherd was a match for any wolf, but it is a frightening thing to be in the presence of your enemies.

Eventually they ate richly, while their Shepherd stood guard. He walked among and checked them for the scrapes and sores from their difficult journey, pouring healing oil upon their wounds. She looked up at him with love. No, the journey wasn’t over yet, and difficulties and dangers probably lay ahead, but she no longer had regrets. She understood enough by now to know that the Shepherd was leading her through these things because He was taking her somewhere better, to a pasture that would never fade or fail, where she could drink forever from the water of life.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Caged Eagle

(I began this in Singapore, seeing the birds of prey confined in cages which, though large, are still so much smaller than the wide skies they were created for. Found the poem in my notebook, and finished it this morning)

And is this all there is,
This which I see,
Or should there be
A different life for me?

Infinite skies I see
Beyond this cage
Incite in me strange longings
And strange rage.

Some glory calling,
Glory past my ken.
Stirring in me to rise there
Now and then.

I hear the wild wind
To my heart it sings.
I long to feel its power
In my wings.

All of this safety
Serves but to confine
This unstretched self
From serving the Divine.

I am no twittering sparrow
To content
My being with such
Circumscribed extent.

And should I choose to be
The smaller thing,
And never, never hear
The wild clouds sing?

It is temptation but
It is not life
To shun the dizzy height,
The wild winds’ strife.

Though curtailed and contained,
I choose to be
True to my blood and calling
And heart-free.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Sunlight dancing on the water

A thousand ballerinas
In glittering pirouette?
Or perhaps angels,
Grown since their mediaeval pinhead days,
Dancing to the glory?
Or minuscule ships of fire,
Burning but not consumed,
Skipping waves we cannot see?
Diamonds are too ordinary for this,
Too tainted by our groping avarice.

Creation showing forth delight
Unbound from the wheel of time,
(The endless entropy of our heart-passion);
The merriment, the grace of joy reborn,
Delight that lights the Lamb’s great Wedding Feast

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Polar Bears

(on predictions that they will become a threatened species)

If the reports (with all their oughts)
Are true,
If a wildness is vanished from the white,
And another wonder swallowed up
By our determined banality,
The greyness of the comfortable life,
Is the world bereft,
Another step in its long, slow grieving?
Do we conquer monsters with despair?

Is there room for play in the frozen wastelands?
Is there joy in the stark, dark night?
Do the Northern Lights sing mystery
For eyes that are not mine?

Loss and sorrow, the world’s long miserere,
The funeral march for springtime’s hopes and dreams.
Only the listening ear can hear,
The single flute motif of all things new.