Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Way Back

One more step
Then another
No! This really is too hard!
Pause …
Rest …
But I can’t stay here,
Here is no place to stay,
And I don’t want to waste the steps I’ve taken.
Pause …
Think … yes, pray!
On a journey as impossible as this
Prayer becomes necessity, like breath,
I breathe in Hope, I breathe out all my fear,
And tears will wash the signposts.

See, a few more steps
Taken, that I hardly noticed,
Breathing, praying,
One foot following the other,
And look how far I’ve come!
But oh!
Look how far I have to go!
Breathe … pray … and weep …

Nobody told me about the angels.
I cannot name their faces, but I feel their touch,
In the helpless chasm of night
When serenity has fled
They are there beside me
And I know in my not-knowing.

This is a difficult climb!
Someone once said, “The descent to Avernus is easy”.
They forgot to mention
That the climbing back
Will scrape off all your skin until you quiver
Like a newborn creature, bare before the world.

Somehow I continue.
I have turned aside and then retraced my steps
Too many times to count.
I am all done in
And yet, each day, somehow,
I have moved forward
On this narrow path whose bourne I do not know
Except it is the only way to go.

Sometimes I see,
In dreams most glorious, my Father’s house,
Waiting there still,
But is there love for me?
But the stranger things become,
The more familiar
The path becomes.
I can almost taste
The bread on my Father’s table.
Why do I see
A nail-scarred hand hold out the wine for me?

And the angels whisper
I am almost home. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Some Lines on the Present Situation

Always, I want to run and hide,
To cover my eyes and my ears
To disengage
From the hopeless task of rebuilding the world in Love.

This is no time for silence
No time for averted eyes, walking past on the other side,
Caught in the moral vice, we must stand for truth.
And we must kneel and pray.

We must pray for our brothers
And sisters
Churned in the chaos of the times,
We must pray for them all,
For those who care, and those who can care no more,
And those who have never cared.
Seared to the heart by the flame of their own anger,
Calcified by fear,
Consumed, by themselves till nothing remains but pain,
We pray for them.

We pray for those who have never known justice,
The squeezed and the crushed, left bleeding by the side,
And no one stops to help,
The forgotten ones, embarrassing by existence,
Reminding us how shaky are our thrones.
We pray for them.

We pray for those whose skin or sex is wrong,
Forever despised for being who they are:
Broken like us, yet in God’s image made.
We pray for them.

We pray for those we will never understand,
Whose souls are set on an alien trajectory,
Whose words and actions confuse us,
Whose intentions make no sense.
We pray for them.

We pray for those who are vulnerable,
Who watch each story on the news
As the prey watches the predator
Hoping to stay unexposed.
We pray for them.

We pray for ourselves, that we will find fidelity
In a world that is wildly unfaithful,
That we will find that holy ground
Where Truth and Love are joined
And stand there while the waves of chaos swirl;
That we will find our voices
And speak out holy words,
Silencing our own fear to speak
The words that heal the world.
We pray, we pray …

And may God have mercy on us all.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Vine

The sun beat down on him while he sat there, sweltering in his rage. The whole thing had been a fiasco from beginning to end, just as he knew it would be. That was why he hadn’t wanted to go in the first place. He knew that was how it would end up, and it just wasn’t fair. If Israel were God’s chosen people, why should God give second chances to their enemies? He had done everything he could to avoid this happening – running off towards Tarshish (that didn’t end well – for the rest of his days he would shudder in horror whenever he remembered that time in the fish’s belly!) and then giving the prophetic message as bluntly and negatively as he could. He need not have bothered trying to resist. The Ninevites had repented, and God was going to spare them. It simply wasn’t fair.

But then, feeling almost idiotic, he realised that if he just moved a little bit, he could at least be out of the fierce heat, which was already unbearable so early in the morning.  A vine had grown, and was providing lovely shade as the sun rose higher in the sky. He was sure it wasn’t there yesterday. Ah well, if it had grown overnight, miraculously, then God still had a care for him. Maybe if he waited a few days longer, God would destroy Nineveh after all? He stretched out in the shade and waited …

The next morning, the sun was hotter than ever, but where was his shade? He looked around and saw that the vine which had been so generous yesterday, had withered up and shrivelled overnight. He looked closer. Some insect, some hideous creeping thing, had gnawed at it overnight and destroyed it, and even now was happily munching at its base. He was angry: angry for himself that he was once more exposed to the pitiless, scorching sun, but there was something else as well. He realised that he was actually angry for the sake of the vine itself, which had been his benefactor, and, for its pains, had been remorselessly devoured.

It was then that God spoke, and the message was so clear that Jonah found himself weeping.  There he was, feeling a terrible pity for a mere plant, eaten up because that is the fate of plants. Meanwhile, if he, a mere human, felt such compassion for a mere vine, how did the God of all compassion feel about that great city spread out below.  Sure, there were sinful men and women there, given over to cruelty, idolatry and every form of depravity. But even if such a merciful God ignored their repentance, and God was always merciful to the penitent, they weren’t the only ones to be considered. What about the little children, too young to know their right hand from their left, let alone commit any evil? Even the domestic beasts of the Ninevites were worth more pity than a mere vine!

And Jonah bowed his head, there was nothing left to say.

Monday, July 31, 2017

This Silence (Be still and know)

This silence drips,
Cold and wet,
Like leaves after rain,
Like the rusted corners of gutters,
Softening the frozen core
In the centre of my heart.

This silence screams,
Through my quivered, straining senses,
Though nothing has moved,
At all,
In this breathless place.

This silence shines
Like a dark pool,
A catalogued mirror
To the chatter of my soul
Reflecting things that,
Never see the light of day.

This silence climbs,
Like a tearing vine
Across the crumbling edifice
I have to call my pride:
Demolishing, yet holding me,
At one and the same time.

This silence calls
A name I do not know,
A new identity.
I strive to hear,
Reaching down,
Falling deeper
Into silence.

This silence changes
The things I thought I knew.
My eyes torn
From the immediate,
While in darkness,
With a splendour that brings tears.

This silence holds,
And wraps me in your peace
I still don’t understand.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Jazz Concert

Notes like a beach ball
Tumbling and turning,
Stripping the silence,
Hard sound coruscates.
Splitting the spectrum
To shatter and sing:
Music in waterfall,
Dancing cascades.

Structure devolving,
A cubist re-forming,
Soft with sharp edges
And melody flowing
Through bottomless vessels,
Yet still holding shape.

 Then to rebuild
With layers of balance,
Negotiate gravity
In letting go:
Waiting complexity’s
Strange resolution.

Transcend the minor key
Echo of emptiness,
Streams that flow over stones
Seeking the sea.
Fulfilled in fullness
Go bold into silence
Fracturing angel songs
So humanly.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Beyond Hope

There was no hope, or so I believed. She was so ill, my sweet little daughter. My wife had already given up and hovered by the bed waiting for the final breath, wrapped six miles deep in gloom. It was stifling; it was unbearable. I have always been a man of action, a man does not get to my position by wishful thinking, and I had to act. When the usual things do not work, you try the unusual things, even the risky ones if you are desperate enough, and I was desperate. To see that precious life snuffed out would be like helplessly watching the sun set knowing it would never rise again. I have always been a pious man, a ruler of the synagogue, so I cried out to God, and, within the space of a breath, I remembered the Teacher from Nazareth.

I had heard he was nearby, so I flung on my cloak and went forth to seek him. It wasn’t difficult, I only had to follow the noise of the crowd, and there he was, unmistakable, at its centre, while the people thronged around him, each one wanting something from him. Well, I couldn’t fault them for that, I desperately wanted something from him as well. People recognised me and let me through, and before I knew what I was doing, I found myself prostrate at his feet, begging him to come and heal my little one – I who had never begged any man for anything before! He looked into my face as if he were searching my very soul, and immediately agreed.

We made slow progress through the crowd, with everyone wanting something from him as he passed, but he stayed focused on me except for one incident with a woman who touched him. I was inwardly screaming with impatience, so I didn’t follow exactly what went on, but I said nothing, because I didn’t dare offend him.

And then, when we were properly on our way, some of my own people met us, and told us we were too late, she was already dead. It was as if my heart left my body and plunged into an abyss of darkness. But the Teacher seemed quite unperturbed, he turned to me and said, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” I wondered what I was supposed to believe, but I was too shattered to say anything, and simply, blindly, kept going with him. He let no one else, except 3 of his disciples, come any further with us.

He swept into the house and dismissed the mourners and all their cacophony, telling them that she was not dead, only asleep, and they laughed at him; but though they offered him only the bitter laughter that one gives to the lunatic pedlar of impossible hopes, they scattered when he told them, and I marvelled, briefly at his authority. Greater marvels were to come, though, for he bent over my little one, took her hand and bid her to rise. And it was as if the dawn came while the sunset still lingered in the sky, for she rose from her bed and walked, and hope walked into our lives again, a doorway into glory.

And then, in the most ordinary way possible, he told us to give her food.

And I began to glimpse that, somehow, in this one man, heaven and earth had joined together. It was much later before I fully understood.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Georgia O'Keeffe

How you disturb me:
The curve of your flowers,
The intimate spaces,
Where beauty detours;
The visceral spaces
Vicissitude traces,
Engaging. Engulfing
And yet love endures.

Through light and darkness
The spirit, not soaring,
But delving, in wonder,
To compass the small.
Near is the courage
And fearless the forging:
Owning, and gaining
And compassing all.

What are you saying?
To whom are you speaking?
How you do challenge
And make your paint sing!
Nothing is static,
Arrived, or arriving.
Journey to stillness,
But carry a sting!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Psalm of a Sydney Winter

I give thanks for skies so blue I get lost in their beauty;
For the slantwise sunlight, adorning every leaf;
For the golden blaze of wattle in the nadir of the year;
For brave, bright camellias with polished leaves;
For the cosiness of bed and the astringency of rising;
For the brilliant flash of lorikeets and white clown cockatoos;
For the dew that falls like blessing.

I praise your name for the laughter of kookaburras
Adorning the morning air;
For nights that wrap the house like a blanket,
Like the strong arms of your love;
For buds on bare branches, and the promise of renewal;
For nature’s downtime, the respite,
The pause between the songs;
For clear night skies a-thrum
With the alien melodies of stars,
Sharp as crystal,
Piercing the soul with beauty.

I thank you that, as seasons turn,
We see new aspects of your glory,
New ways to sing your praise.
I thank you that the seasons of austerity
Carry their hidden beauty:
Flowers of another spring
Pressed between the pages of our lives,
Promising the Spring that ends all winters.
I thank you that the sun and moon
Shall not cease in their rising till he comes:
The Son of Righteousness
Who rises
That the whole world may be healed.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Robber's Tale

I will tell you the truth, I never expected to come to a good end. From my childhood I was one of those boys marked out for trouble, running wild and getting into bad company. It would be easy to blame all my family’s woes on the Roman tax system, but the truth is (and I can admit that now after years and years when my scalding hatred of Rome was the thing that propelled me on), my parents were wastrels, lazy, careless and concerned for nothing but their own immediate gratification. If they had been very rich, perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered so much, or perhaps they would have plunged even faster into every kind of degradation. I know now that, while Rome certainly isn’t blameless (all kingdoms except one squeeze as much as they can out of the people at the bottom), it was only the catalyst that hastened my family’s inevitable destruction. But my parents blamed Rome for every bad thing that happened, and, as a child, I believed them. It is always easier to blame an external enemy.

So I grew up without a trade, without an inheritance, and with a deep anger burning in my heart. Is it any wonder that I gravitated towards the rebels and the robbers. Truth to tell, we were nothing more than a band of brigands, carving out our own little niche on the Jerusalem-Jericho road, which was infested with our kind, but we told ourselves that we were nobly resisting Roman rule, striking a blow for freedom; and we were foolish enough to believe our own lies. In fact we rarely attacked Romans of any kind, they were far too well defended. It was our own people, and heedless foreigners that we usually attacked, telling ourselves that they wouldn’t be rich enough to steal from if they weren’t collaborating with Rome. It is extraordinary the lengths we will go to so that we can justify ourselves and be heroes in our own imaginations, when the squalid truth was that we were simply criminals.

Of course I ended up getting caught, I wasn’t nearly as clever as I thought I was, and in one of the periodic clearances of the area I didn’t get away fast enough. Then I languished in prison until my execution date was set. I had time to do a lot of thinking then, being forced to sit still and quiet for once in my life, and some of my realisations really made me squirm. I got chatty with some of the guards and began to realise that perhaps these Roman soldiers didn’t exactly have the wonderful life I’d always envied. They also told me news of what was going on in the city (conversation helps pass the time, even for a guard) and inevitably I started hearing about Jesus, the teacher from Nazareth. I was fascinated.

The day came for my execution. Any man would be terrified of crucifixion, and I was no exception. As we walked the streets to Golgotha I noticed the crowds and realised it must be Passover. I had lost count of the days, and, anyway, whoever heard of keeping Passover in a robber’s den? So much for our allegiance to our own people!

Everyone knows the horrors of crucifixion, I don’t need to go there. It was only after I was strung up there in agony that I realised, from the things that the crowd were saying,  that the man on the cross next to me was Jesus. I looked at him, I looked at myself, and noticed the difference. But mostly I looked at him, even in my extremity, I couldn’t tear my eyes away. And when the thief on the cross on the other side started mocking him as well, it was too much. With a last surge of my own anger, I said, “Don’t you fear God? We are under the same sentence, be we deserve our punishment. This man has done has done nothing wrong!”

And as I said those words, understanding came. I do not know fully who he is or what he is doing, but I knew enough. And I knew that all my life I had misunderstood everything. I turned to him, and the tears in my eyes were no longer from the pain. Brokenhearted, with no more pride, no more anger I simply begged, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.

He looked me fully in the eye and replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 It is almost the end. My agony will be over soon. But I am no longer afraid. I am with Jesus.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

No Continuing City

And the desert stretches bare,
Lean and dry in finitude
And all the harsh winds howl
In our solitary decrepitude.

And the waves of time crash over
Our crumbling fortress towns
We gather lonely rags
And name them wedding gowns.

And the weariness we feel
With cycle, rinse, repeat,
Is clamour in our ears
And cruel stones to our feet.

And the cities that we build
All fall down into dust:
The pain we cannot name
That undermines our trust.

Each stone, each bitter stone,
Transmutes the living heart
To desolation’s rock:
Dead so it cannot smart.

And every word we speak
And every hope we dream
Is built upon the sand
To silence our heart’s scream.

And yet there is a place
Beyond our farthest sight
Where crash no alien seas,
Where falls no fearsome night.

A place no terrors shake
No entropy dismays:
A place whose very stones
Sing forth their Maker’s praise.

From heaven like a bride
Its glory shall come down
The city nought can shake
God’s Self its cornerstone.

And we who trembling walk
The desperate wilderness
We seek the city built
Upon His faithfulness.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Walk softly

Walk softly with great love, walk softly.
Be tender, do not trample those beneath you.
Let the bruised and the broken
Be the burden of your heart
Walk softly.
Be aware, aware,
Be merciful, giving honour,
Be aware.
Let their cries become your cry
In the mystery of faith.
Walk softly.

Dance wildly into joy, dance wildly.
Let the bright winds catch your hair.
Move to the rhythm of the angels’ song
Here, in the cold plains of exile.
Be aware,
Dancing wildly,
Making room
For the Kingdom
And the Glory
In the measure of your steps,
In the Hope that sets you singing.
Dance wildly.

Kneel quietly, entering prayer, kneel quietly.
Know your own smallness, and be glad,
For our weakness is His strength.
Be Spirit-winged.
Be aware,
Kneeling quietly
In the sanctum of your heart,
Breathing grace
And trust,
Kneel quietly.
Run firmly in your race, run firmly,
Do not turn aside for golden apples
Thrown by weak desires
And secret follies.
Be aware,
Running firmly.
Knowing who is your goal,
Through heat and cold,
The long tumult of the years,
Laughing against the byways.
Run firmly.

And the sunlight will sing to you,
The mercy will flow through you.
Humility will release you
And the stars will call you home.

Not For This

It was not for this that I sang sweet songs of adoration to my God, that I praised him and proclaimed him from the time my fingers were long enough to stretch across the strings. It was not for this that I told my people, in words, in music, in every possible way, that the Lord’s ways were altogether righteous, and him only should they serve – not so that I should be the most flagrantly disobedient of them all.

It was not for this that I bore with the vagaries of Saul, his dark, dark moods and his murderous jealousy. It was not for this that I fled when he threw his spear, and that even when I caught him in the cave and he was in my power, I refrained from harming him because I would not lift my hand against the Lord’s anointed. And I knew, even in those desperate years when I hid in the wilderness that the Lord’s favour was with me, and his anointing still stood through the barren space of years. And I have come down to this. I, who would not lift my hand against an unfaithful king have lifted it against a most faithful servant and taken his life, though by proxy. (It is still my blood-guilt. I know that now.) And I could not wait out my lust one little moment (though I waited out all of Saul’s revilings), but had to have the woman now, though she was not mine to take.

It was not for this that I found the courage of a pure faith (though I was little more than a child) and went forth to do battle with the monster Goliath who had dared insult my God. For I had not slain the monster within me: the monster of self-righteousness, the monster of entitlement, the secret, bitter, depravity of my own heart. And now it is laid bare for the whole of Israel to see, and God has shone his righteous light on the deeds I did in darkness, and there is no shame like mine.

All my life I have been a warrior, and a warrior-king, but the moment I stopped battling the enemies without, I surrendered without a battle to the enemy within. I had forgotten that God desires truth in the inward parts. I had slipped into thinking that it was enough to proclaim him in the great assembly of the people, and to support and uphold his worship. And now I am exposed – a murderer, an adulterer, and yes, (and this is bitter to male pride) a rapist, who took a woman unwilling when I had so many that were willing. Not for this was I anointed king.

And now there is nothing left but to cry out to God and pray for him to change me. For I cannot make myself clean. Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. I have stood against monsters and mighty foes, but I never needed you then as much as I need you now. Do not cast me away from your presence, do not take your Holy Spirit from me. It was not for this that you made me, it was not for this that you exalted me, that I might shame your holy name. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, for I cannot live without you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Invitation to sleep

Body, be at rest,
Day’s doings done!
The world will turn without you.
Lay you down.
And let the great eternal forces
Carry you to morning.

Busy mind, be still!
Your thinking can’t
Change the world on its own.
It’s time to stop,
To trust,
To let your smallness carry you
To dreams of wonder and another day.

Soul, let go!
The mountains and the valleys and the heights
Will stand without you;
Whirling stars will dance
To their own music,
They require you not.
Remember who you are,
Remember whose,
And let go and lie down.

For this you know,
You know this certainty:
You sleep and wake in safety.
Day and night
Are written in the fabric of the world,
And in their rhythm teach a greater thing.
For death will come
A falling into dark,
To fall through to a morning bright and fair,
To fall through to the Love that always holds,
And holds forever.

Rest, and be content.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

To the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

What do you think as you stand there,
Under the deep blue sky and the hammered heat,
Moving with machine precision
Giving honour to the dead?

What do you feel, standing there
Under the gaze of strangers
Whose motives you cannot guess?
Eyes straight! Stay focused!

What do you know, as you stand there
Of the pain of your traditions,
The doubts that pursue the dying,
Questioning your cause?
What have you suffered?
What made you?
Do you know the grace that holds you,
Promising a glory
That no war ever brought?

Where do you go when you stand there
Before the unnamed dead;
And, just beyond you,
The stretching fields of tombstones,
Where the dead
Have nothing left but names?
Do you wonder
What name, what lasting heritage,
Is yours?

When a man keeps company with death
What does he return to tell the living?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sheila's Cardamom Bread (for Communion)

Blessed be the hands that made the bread,
That gather, mix and knead. 
Blessed be the hands that bore the nails
To meet our deepest need.

Blessed be the one who adds the spice
And subtle sweetness gives.
Blessed be the one who took on death
So that his body lives.

Blessed be the faith that baked this bread
And gave it back to God.
Blessed be the faith that went through hell
To claim us by his blood.

Blessed be the hands that baked the loaf
Through which our souls are fed.
Blessed be the hands that took the cross
To be our living bread.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dream Train

Dream train

Oh the train is sweetly rolling and there's twilight in the air
And the new ploughed fields wear little shoots of green
And there's water by the wayside and the clouds are turning pink
And restfulness embraces everywhere.

And the nights are softly dreaming to the rhythm of the rails
To the soporific music of their song
And the passengers are bound into a night they cannot see
As darkness starts to gather all around.

There's a soft sort of contentment when there's nothing to be done
Save to rest upon the turning of the wheels
And remembering and forgetting seem an effort far too strong
For this dreaming place at rest between the worlds.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Windy city

Windy City

And the lake it sings its own song mid the sparkle and the shade
And the rain and bitter wind notes come and go
And the music that they're making is a tune that I can hear.
Windy City.

There's a melody of seasons, there's a painted change of light
There's a rustling of squirrels in the trees
And clouds are wrapped like scarves around the shoulders of the towers.
Windy City.

And the waters are a mirror to the twists of history
And the lake has gathered in a million tears
And the groans of pains uncounted lend their bass notes to the breeze.
Windy City.

And there's striving and there's growing and there's struggle and there's loss
And the turning pages may be dark or bright
And there's mystery and longing and the strange smell of success
Windy City.

For they came, they came, the dreamers and the hopeful and the lost
Sheep and wolves like every place that man has trod,
And the fire is burning ever and the guns blaze in men's hearts.
Windy City.

But the waters still sing gently and the works of man still stand
And the promises are certain as the day
There's a welcome word of kindness and a wonder takes your breath
Windy City.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Autumn Twilight

The sun burns low upon the western sky
And winter draws its cloak around it, tight.
And, in this life of waiting and of love,
I sit and watch the dying of the light.

Time is the only rhythm that I know,
By heart and breath and clock to measure pace.
But always, just beyond the senses’ scan,
Eternity wears quite another face.

Those moments beyond time when stars stand still,
Or dance before a beauty we can’t see,
When love enables soul to touch with soul,
And we are stilled from our cacophony.

Therefore I walk this small and earthly span
In hope of glory far beyond my guess;
For every chill of cloud and fall of leaf
Recalls to me the great eternal Yes.