Monday, May 01, 2017

Restoration

In the end is the beginning, in the loss we find the gain, from seeming defeat comes ultimate victory. True life is found on the other side of death, not by clinging relentlessly and hopelessly to this shadow of life we know now. Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, but life remains in the hidden places and is called forth to flourish once again. The history of the world is the story of restoration, in spite of every dark thing that evil works against it.

In the beginning there was a man and a woman, and there was also one who took the form of a serpent and beguiled them into sin and death and misery. But there was also God, and he had a better story to tell them and invite them into. It wasn’t the easy way, or the simplistic way, but it was the true way. It was the way of restoration.

And even through darkness and evil, some chose to follow that path. And there was a man called Abraham who left the glittering comforts of the world behind to walk with God beneath the stars. And to him there was given a glimpse of promises beyond his power to measure. But the road to restoration was not an obvious one for his descendants, it lay through exile and slavery, bondage and brokenness. But, in the fullness of time, through fear and wonder, they were restored to the land that had been promised, and became a nation.

And the centuries passed. And, in the pattern of history, there was gain and loss, exile and restoration. But God had a bigger plan, for he is not just their God, but the God of all that is. And so he came himself, the Creator entering creation; he came to his own and his own did not receive him. He did not come wearing any earthly splendour as a shoddy symbol of his majesty, he came as the least of these and was despised and rejected, for they still did not understand God’s way of restoration. And he died, shamefully and horribly, while the crowds jeered and mocked, and it seemed like the last frail thread of hope had snapped.

But this was all part of the plan of restoration, and the very thing that looked so like defeat was a mighty victory over sin and death and all the forces of destruction. The miracle had happened and the tide had turned.

But the work of restoration is not yet complete. The earth still groans and injustice and oppression stalk the world. And so we wait for the final act, the fulfilment of all that is.  We wait for a new heaven and new earth. We wait for a city of glory that will descend like a bride. We wait for every tear to be wiped away, and the splendour of the nations to come in. We wait for that joy which can never be taken away – never ever again. We wait for God.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Time of Breaking

It is the time for breaking
Old platitudes depart;
We people-in-the-making
Must un-defend the heart.

It is the time of mourning
For what may never be;
Small truths no longer scorning
We face our finity.

It is the time for speaking
The words we could not say;
With no more image-tweaking
We face the light of day.

It is the time for grieving
The good we failed to do;
Too weak was our believing,
Too swift the moments flew.

It is the time for lighting
The lamps we need by night;
To read the wall’s strange writing
Demands a truer light.

It is the time of breaking
Our false strongholds of fear;
Hypocrisy forsaking,
For reckoning draws near.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Shadow of a Great brightness

There – not there!
Skittering at the edge of sight,
The shadow of a great brightness,
Wrenching my tear-filled eyes.

Have I seen truly?
Have I seen at all?
Ever, at all?
Moments of such illumination
My earth-sense doubts them real.

The shadow of a great brightness:
And, in our moon-struck folly,
We dare not whisper what we see,
Fearing the rolling of each other’s eyes,
Fearing the desecration of self-doubt,
Fearing, in fact, our own humanity,
In its amphibious state between the worlds.

There is more than meets the eye,
Yet we want our eyes to meet
In the shared language of our daily life
(Imagining that this is understood);
And the shadow of a great brightness
Remains our silent mystery.

Let us rather acknowledge that the limitation
Is rather in ourselves, who can’t else know
The things that great illuminations show –
Acknowledging we have so far to grow.

And the shadow of a great brightness
Is more real than sun and moon.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Last Passover

We were so blind that night,
Our eyes tight closed against truths too big to bear.
We saw, and we did not see,
We knew and remained ignorant
We were like men who stared at the letters
But could not read the words.

Now, with our world reborn,
Now that we finally truly begin to understand
(A beginning that will continue into all eternity,
For who can compass the infinite?),
Now, when the pattern is complete and its glory is revealed,
Now we know it could be no other way.
It had to be the Passover.

It had to be the Passover.
He was the new Moses, the better-than-Moses,
Who would lead his people to freedom through darkness and terror,
Who would take us out of slavery into the fullness of the promises,
Who would show us the way to our true home.
And He was the paschal lamb
The one whose blood was spilled so that,
Though we should feel the bitter cold that flows from the wings of the Angel of Death,
Yet it would not touch us
And we need no longer be afraid.
And He was the unleavened bread in whom no hint of corruption lived,
And the bitter herbs became his crown of thorns.

It had to be the Passover.
Yet we were so blind.
We did not see how his every word, every gesture,
Was loaded with layers of meaning.
We did not see the sorrow and agony that lay beneath his gravity.
Nothing made sense to us then.

He took the bread and broke it.
“This is my body,” He said.
These were words that could tear the universe apart
And we simply took and ate.
We did not know that his body would be broken
So that we could be made one;
One with each other,
One with God Himself,
One with his purpose and his power.
(But, Oh, the horror of that breaking!)

And then He took the cup,
That solemn cup
Of ordinary wine,
“This is my blood of the New Covenant,
Poured out for many
For forgiveness of sins.”
We had no idea.
We were too afraid to ask.
But now we rejoice as the forgiven.

Every year we had spoken the words
Eaten the food
Remembered and remembered,
Drunk the wine
Remembered,
And never seen
It all was pointing forwards and not back:
Not to Moses but to Christ.

He made the blind to see.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Equipoise (Easter Saturday)

There is deep silence at the heart of things:
The still point at the swinging of the tide,
Pause between heartbeats, space between our breaths,
The first star that comes blinking to our view,
The hanging moment of the pendulum
Before it courses back, the equipoise,
The turning point when everything hangs still.

And thus with time: this day, the silent day,
The day between the days, when death and life
Hung equipoised in some eternal place,
The victory surely known, but not to us.
Your people waited, hushed, as audience,
Who did not know there was another act
Yet still gazed at the curtain in despair –
For surely, surely, this was not the end?

Therefore we wait in every turning point,
Between the breathing out and breathing in,
Between the understanding and the thought,
Between the darkness and the coming light,
The space that waits between our tears and prayers,
Knowing that you, yourself have been here too,
And sanctified our turmoil with your peace


Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Thoughts 2017

 This time last year I walked an English Spring
And all the promised wonders that ensue.fresh,
Where all was daffodil-shiny new,
And drank the metaphor of life reborn

This time, this year, my world to Autumn slopes
 The dying season hovers, close at hand,
Birds fly away and flowers turn to dust
The season’s adumbration cloaks the land.

So here I stand, as the year’s circle turns
And brings me back to Calvary once more
Where dark was darkest and death cruelled the earth
With hopelessness more bitter than before.

And here I visit but I shall not stay
I know the story and its gloried end;
I know my Winter has a future Spring
I know that He who died now calls me “friend”.

I know that He is life and shall not die
Again. I know His victory is complete,
His suffering is the anteroom to joy,
And it was death who suffered full defeat.

I know that seasons turn and roll and flow,
But He is faithful in His constancy.
He died, He rose, He lives forever more,
And on that day His love was sealed to me.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

I Thirst

I – skitter-minded, child of little thirsts,
Longing life’s mud puddles,
Quickly quenched,
Always, always,
Too easily satisfied,
Only acknowledging
Teaspoon deserts,
Which a little glitter hides.

You draw me to the silent places,
And open my aridity
Till my whole self yearns your streams,
Your living water.
Salt of the earth, you tease my tongue,
The puddles all evaporate
And this thirst feels like death,
My heart spun drier than the dust between the stars.

Except a grain of wheat …
Watered, I sprout.

But you – what did you thirst,
Hell raw on every nerve,
The torment of the utterly alone,
Strung from the precipice,
Falling into flame?
Angels held back, aghast,
At the unravelling of Life,
The coming down
To this.

Was it my thirst you bore,
Or something more:
Love,
Unsatiated,
Reaching out through everything
For me?


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Let the Rain fall

Let the rain fall, bleak and hard
On the shadowed desolation
The wound at the heart of the world.

Let the torrents try
To cleanse the stain, the spot incarnadine,
Bleeding death, and fear and rottenness.

Let us gather all our great technologies –
Surely something will succeed?
Surely we can make our peace?

But failure sticks, chokingly, in our mouths
Till our mumblings make no sense
In the misery of rain.

There was only one way, only, ever one,
He took it, lashed with thorns, vicious with nails,
Into the desolation, the forsaken place…

Let the rain fall, gentle with blessing,
Let the skies sing triumph!
Let the angels' alleluias mend our faith again!

Whole in His brokenness, blood washed out by blood,
We begin again, acknowledging His victory:
The price we could not pay.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

And the Passover moon looks down

And the Passover moon shines down
And the man kneels in the garden
And the bent, gnarled trees kneel too,
While creation holds its breath.

Men sleep, this agony too much for them.
(In dreams we can forget).
But the trees know,
And the Spring breeze pauses its dance,
And the distant sheep are still.
Only the stars, steadfast in their constancy,
Have no fear that he’ll say “No!”
And unravel all redemption.

Those same angels
Who once ministered
When he endured the wilderness
Hold back now,
Covering their faces
Before such holiness.

“Nevertheless ..”
His will, already crucifed,
Accepts the cup,
Shrinking from its vileness.
And the trees lift up their branches,
Looking strangely like a cross.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Tibouchinas in Holy Week



Tibouchinas in the rain
Purple flowers, sky of grey
Whisper of the king who came
Draped in our dark robe of pain.

Flowering when the autumn chill
Turns some other leaves to brown;
Here a promise to fulfil
When our world is turned around.

Promise, not of golden days,
Or of blossoms yet-to-be,
But the mercy in his gaze,
Love in our infirmity.

Promise to walk by our side
Through whatever grief we face.
Nailed to us, he will abide,
Lifting, leading into grace.

Promise of the mourning king,
Man of sorrows, Lord and God,
Promise that through everything
He is sealed to us by blood.

Tibouchinas in the rain,
Purple flowers for my king,
As my heart walks through again
The path of his suffering.



Sunday, April 09, 2017

Palm Sunday

How do you ride in peace
Through the clamour of Hosanna?
The shouting of false dreams,
The loud hunger for a Kingdom
Which is not the one you bring?

You wear your kingship
Like a crown of thorns
While they throw their garments at your feet
Covering the stones,
Just for a moment,
And rejecting the chief cornerstone:
Yourself.

How do you bear it,
Knowing their stubborn pain
And the flippant excuses
Of hearts so disengaged?
Like children who turn
From one toy to another
Enjoying none,
Their anger waits the day.

Peace is the pattern of your gift
So you bring it bravely
To the place of violation
Where the Prince of Peace
Is not their heart’s desire:
When it comes to a choice
They would rather have Barabbas.

How do you ride in peace
Through the clamour of Hosanna?
Your face set to Jerusalem,
Your hands prepared for nails
Wearing your sorrow
Like the garments of a king?


Friday, April 07, 2017

Silence

Our words, so much less than
The inarticulate dream;
Our stumbling, bumbling counterfeits
Tumbling  from our lips
Grumbling with inadequacy
For what remains unsaid
Even when we say it.

We take Your words
And cut them up
Hoping to find actuality
In the inter-consonantal spaces,
And, when we find nothing
Declare that nothing’s there.

We are the impoverished
Who rise in the morning
And hear no angels’ song.
We are the foolish
Thinking words are less
Than our spirals of activity.
We are the ignorant
Who do not know
The power of Your words.
We are the arrogant
Making ourselves the measure
And the universe falls short.

How can You speak
Into the restless hubbub
Of our whirling self-justification?

Let us be willing
To wait in the silence,
Testing our words against truth
Falling silent
Waiting until
Your words remake the world

Monday, April 03, 2017

The Spoilsport

It was the best of times. I had never had it so good. Our property had recovered from my father’s foolish gift to my brother, and everything was thriving. We had more sheep, more cattle, more acres of land than ever before (because a prudent man re-invests by buying more good farmland with his profits, and the first thing I did when we could afford it was buy back the fields my father had sold to raise the money for my brother’s share of the inheritance – how I resented that!), and we were looking forward to record-breaking crops. True, we had heard rumours of a famine in faraway lands, but what was that to us? We can’t be responsible for other people’s misfortunes, if they squander their surplus in good years and keep nothing for the lean ones, well, they are to blame for their own troubles. A man must make his own wealth by his own hard work, or so I have always believed. And I certainly worked hard. From morning to night I was bustling about, organising this and fixing that, making sure none of our hired hands shirked in their labours. And in the busy periods I have never been above rolling up my sleeves and doing the work myself. Hard work is how a man earns respect in this world, and if you aren’t prepared to work you deserve to go without.

My father left more and more of the work to me, and that suited me fine. He would spend so much time gazing down the road as if he were expecting my brother to suddenly materialise on the road in front of him. Why, I don’t know, but old men have their fancies, and he must surely realise that I was worth a dozen of that idle scapegrace. A prosperous old age, and no lack of anything he might reasonably desire, that was my gift to him. I was a son any man could be proud of.

Then, one day, when the sun burned like a white flame, and the dust on the road was chokingly thick, my brother re-appeared. I was out in the fields, of course, and was only told later what had happened. My father saw him while he was still a long way off, and throwing aside every last vestige of the dignity belonging to our family, went running down the road to meet him. Only later did I learn that my brother had come back as a beggar and suppliant, as he should, in his disgrace, but my father would have none of it. Instead of sending him to work in the fields and sleep in the stables, he called for his robe and ring, and for the fatted calf to be killed for a feast of rejoicing.

It is beyond my understanding. Can’t he see that things were better without my brother? Can’t he see that my brother shouldn’t be rewarded for his behaviour? What will that teach him? The lazy boy has probably spent all his money on loose women and loaded dice. He is a disgrace! Somebody said, “look how much he loves him!” I don’t understand. He has done nothing to earn my father’s love! One bitter question rises in my throat like bile: whare is the fatted calf for me?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Norfolk Island -- the Convicts

The lash of time, the grinding seas
Have beaten on this lonely rock
Where the wild seabirds wheel and turn,
Alone amidst their seeming flock.

Here history has shed her tears
On bitter, dark brutality:
The monstrous sadism of man
Destroying human dignity.

Here many, many men were crushed
For the dull crimes of humankind;
And Hope was buried in the dust
And Pity was made deaf and blind.

And Justice turned away her head
And cunning wrought new paths to pain,
Men’s souls were to a treadmill fixed
To limp through hell again, again.

And down the way, in finer homes,
Sat genteel ladies taking tea
Their eyes averted from the things
It was not suitable to see.

And now the stones are crumbled down
And the sweet grass grows green and free
But still a sorrow soaks this place
Where men once moved in misery.

May we in prayer be thoughtful here
Lest careless hearts be turned to stone
And history on her treadmill still
Brings us to do as they had done.

My Hair

My hairdresser calls it curly,
My mother still thinks it's straight;
I say it has a mind of its own
And that seems to be my fate.

It isn't the sort that's exciting,
But at least it covers my head.
But i just had a disturbing thought:
Will it still grow after I'm dead?

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Day we Changed

We were not afraid. That was the thing that surprised us the most. We had been afraid, so afraid for … well, it felt like forever. Even seeing the Risen Lord, while it had set our hearts dancing, had not eliminated our fear. We had a new confidence, we were certainly praying differently, but we still lived in the old habits of fear, just as we had so often when He walked among us in flesh and blood. We were human, and all human beings come into this world with some degree of fear, and most of us carry it so habitually that we do not even name it when we shrink away from the terrors of life and the risks of love. I can still hear His voice, the very tone of it, so tender and yet so challenging, as, over and over He said to us, “Oh you of little faith …”

But now it had all changed, and, when we had time for reflection, we only knew and named our fear for the first time by its absence. And to think that it was only fifty days after the greatest terror most of us had ever known! Some, mainly the women, had dared to stand there and watch Him die; the rest of us had already fled in terror, and the news they brought us only broke our hearts further. There is no darkness like the night when you believe that even God has failed you.

Then He rose from the dead, and our understanding was turned inside out, and our hearts were reborn. He came, He went, and we could not reason His comings or His goings, but we drank from His presence, for we knew then, with a universe re-shaping certainty, that we were more privileged even than Moses or Elijah, for we saw the face of God in the Man, Jesus Christ, even while we yet walked upon the earth.

And then he left us, hidden by a cloud as he returned to a glory we cannot yet comprehend.  We mourned His going, we who had been privileged above all those who had lived before us, and we returned to huddle prayerfully in the upper room, while we waited for the fulfilment of a promise we did not understand. But we knew that the One who promised had conquered death and returned to the glory of the Father, and we were learning to believe Him.

Then, on the morning of the feast of Pentecost, our world was changed forever. For as we prayed, God came down among us. He came with the sound of a mighty rushing wind, and a visible sign of tongues of flame, and more than one of us recalled the story of how he had come down to our people on Mount Sinai, so very many years ago. Those were the outward signs, the things that we could name. But deeper, of course, was the experience we could not name, the experience of the transformative power of God, the unshakeable glory of His love, taking up residence in our hearts. For one moment a corner of the curtain that separates the mortal from the eternal was twitched aside. We saw, we felt, we knew just a fragment of the truly holy, and we were changed forever. We stepped out into the world to tell them of the wonder of Jesus, in tongues we never knew.

And we were not afraid.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The Suffering God (after g A studdert Kennedy)

Spun through this wound of darkness
Faith is no empty sound
For the truth that pierces like a sword
Can bind the whole world round.

And the word that rends the silence
Where the heart’s blood finds its voice
Is torn from the breath of our deepest dream
Making its dreadful choice.

And He walks in all our stumbling,
Weaves music from our cries,
And love shall lift all into beauty
Where degradation lies.

For He stands in no aloofness
From our agonised despair.
Where man destroy the life of man
The Son of Man is there.

Through mud and muck and horror
And nightmare’s deepest fear;
In the shattering of our heart’s last hope
The Son of Man is here.

And we are not utterly alone
When all things crash to nought
For the nails, the spear, the crown of thorns –
He knew, He owned, He sought.

For faith is never just a word
Here in our hells he stands
Bearing the lash of our wildest grief
With nail scars in His hands.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Broken Net

It was broken. Fishing nets had broken before, and they would break again. Mending nets was simply part of the job of being a fisherman. He had been mending nets since he was a child, long before he had a man’s strength to throw the nets out and haul them in again. But this time was different. He passed the strands through his fingers, and blinked back the tears in his eyes, lest anyone started thinking he was crying over something as silly as a broken net. Not that anyone was likely to; they were as stunned as he was and only had eyes for Jesus. It was the quietest return to shore he could ever remember.

It had all been so ordinary until then. Another wasted, wearisome night’s fishing, with nothing to show for it. They had thrown out the nets and hauled them in, thrown out the nets and hauled them in, over and over and over, until even his strong arms were tired. And not even one tiny fish to show for it! Nights like that were so discouraging. Those were the nights he started wondering why anyone would choose to be a fisherman, and trying to think of another trade.  But his family had fished by the Sea of Galilee for generations, and, really, what else could he do? And they came back, and they washed their nets, because that was what you did next.

And there was Jesus; and there was the crowd pressing in close to hear him. When Jesus gestured to him, he understood immediately what was needed, and helped him into the boat. From that position Jesus could be seen and heard by everyone. And he, Simon, listened while Jesus taught, and something melted inside him, something he had no words for.

Then Jesus turned to him and told him to take out his boat and cast out his net. At first he protested, they had already wasted a whole night fishing for nothing. And yet … this was Jesus, and before he had time to reflect, he found himself saying, “Nevertheless, at your word ..”

And so they went out, and they cast their nets, and came up with so many fish that their nets were breaking from the weight of them, and others had to help them bring in the catch. And the broken nets were not as broken as he was. He had listened to the teaching and marvelled, but there were too many new ideas and he was not a learned man. But this he understood. He knew about fish. And he knew that what had just happened turned his whole world upside down. He was in the presence of something (or someone?) holy. And he was not holy at all. It was too much! “Depart from me,” he said, overwhelmed, “for I am a sinful man.”

And Jesus replied, “Do not be afraid Simon. From now on you will catch men.”

It was enough. He left behind his nets and followed Jesus.

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.