Thursday, December 07, 2017

Questions for Mary

Where were you when the angel came
On an ordinary day
In a town of no reputation?

Surely you were alone
In that all-shattering moment,
In the house?
In the field?
By the well?
What were you thinking
When your world turned inside out?
And did those thoughts return?

And how do angels come:
With great beating wings
Of terror?
Or quietly walking
As if they were always there?
Or simply present
Like a sunbeam’s touch on your face?
Can you look in their eyes?
Or does their merest glance
Cover the whirling galaxies
And the steeped up slopes of time?

And which was harder,
Telling others,
Or believing it yourself?

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Slave

Now I know what a fool I was. How could I have been so stupid? But in a world where you have nothing, you take what you can get; in a world where you have no life, no choices of your own you don’t plan ahead (what plans can you make when your master or mistress can destroy them on a moment’s whim?). You never think about the big picture, for there is no consolation there, where there is no hope.

It all began (from my point of view) when the master took me to his bed – not exactly an unheard of fate for a slave, but it had never happened before in this household. Of course, nobody asked me if I wanted to, slaves don’t have the right to say yes or no to whatever is asked of them, and, let’s be honest, high-born women rarely have the right either, though they generally get some tokens of respect. But at least the old man was kind to me, and I was very thankful for that.

But then I became pregnant, and I became overjoyed. I might be only a slave, and my mistress a high-born free woman, but I had achieved something that she had never managed in all her years. I was bearing the master’s son, his only son! (I never doubted it would be a boy) Is it any wonder that I went a little crazy? Such fantasies I had of supplanting my mistress (who, after all was old and barren) and becoming my master’s new wife, his favourite wife. Then that spiteful old woman wouldn’t be able to order me around anymore, and I would put her in her place. I had miscalculated badly.

Of course Sarai saw my attitude and guessed what I was thinking. She could not endure it, what woman could in this insecure world we live in, where our lives are totally dependent on our usefulness to the men we belong to? She, in turn, became so bitter towards me, so cruel, that I fled from her in terror.

It was then that the miracle happened. There I was, alone in the world, resting by the spring with no idea where to go or how to find safety, when the glorious messenger of God appeared – to me, a slave! What sort of God cares about slaves? What sort of God would deign to notice someone like me, let alone stoop down to speak to them? He gave me promises for my son, promises I can scarcely understand, but how can I doubt his word? And he bade me return to my mistress and humble myself before her, and so I did, and all was well again.
 But I will never be the same, for I have met with the God who sees, and I know that he sees all things even into the hearts of the least of us. And, despite all the pride and folly of our hearts, he does not despise us, but deals with us tenderly. And I wonder, as I carry my son, my miracle, my Ishmael, how is it that God in heaven understands how it feels to be a slave, a nobody, a nothing? Something tugs at my imagination, could God himself become a nobody? But I shy away from the thought, such a thing would turn the whole world upside down.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Defenders of Abuse

They sit in their cold, careful castles,
The men to whom life was so kind
Believing that clean reputations
Are kept by the deaf and blind.
The grubby, pathetic and scrubby
Are whitewashed with such careful paint,
And when someone says that it’s happening,
They reply, right on cue, “No, it ain’t.”

In love with their great institutions,
In love with their bright golden thrones,
They polish their canopies’ framework,
Gold varnish placed on dead men’s bones,
They practise their eloquent phrases,
So musical to their own ears,
And wash their hands clean from the problem
In a bowl of the victims’ salt tears.

Themselves are the true persecuted,
So runs their mellifluous song;
“What a shame that these people are bitter,
What a pity that they are so wrong!”
How hollow their words are to history,
Where self-defence brays like an ass,
And the more that they measure each sentence,
The more they sound heartless and crass!

The angels come down from the heavens
To stand with the broken of earth,
They lift them with infinite mercy
And give their cause measureless worth.
But those who have trampled the hurt ones
To build their own temple of pride,
Are those who blaspheme what is holy,
God’s love for each terrorised child.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Defeat

Take and eat
Take and drink
Remember
Remember
Remember …

Remember the man who lost everything
Remember the man who had nowhere to lay his head, unless a friend invited him in
Remember the man that the crowds gave up on when he told them hard truths they didn’t want to hear.
Remember him.

Remember the man whose own friend betrayed him.
Remember the man whose friends slept uncaring while he writhed in agony of soul.
Remember the man who lived and walked and talked with his little group of followers for three years, and then they looked at him blankly when he tried to explain the whole point.
Remember the man whose friends gladly ate the bread of heaven, but ran away when the bread was broken.
Remember him.

Take and eat
Take and drink
Remember.

Remember the man, the innocent man, who was arrested at night by rough soldiers, taken to a farcical trial where false witnesses swore evidence against him, and condemned to death.
Remember the man who was cruelly flogged by jeering soldiers who thought that mocking his kingship and ridiculing his dignity was the most fun they’d had all week.
Remember the man who had to carry the unbearable weight of his cross (and ours) to the place of execution, until he fell beneath its weight, doewn in the dust of the road, and couldn’t get up again.
Remember the man who had nails hammered through his living flesh, and then was strung up naked, so the world could laugh at his helplessness while he slowly suffocated in agonising pain.
Remember him.

Take and eat.
Take and drink.
Remember.

Remember the man who did not even have the light of day to give him courage while he was dying.
Remember the man whose friends deserted him and denied him in fear, while his enemies triumphed in unholy joy.
Remember the man who was hastily buried in a borrowed tomb, because he still had nowhere on earth to call his own.
Remember him.
Remember that defeat doesn’t get more absolute than this.

But then
Remember.
Remember that he rose again, overcoming death forever.
Remember that he has secured life forever, life in all its fullness, for those that put their trust in him.
Remember that sin and death and hell, and all the thorns, and pains and brokenness of the curse are vanquished forever by him, and trampled underfoot.
Remember that he sits at the Father’s right hand and holds the scroll of history.
Remember that he shall come again in glory to rule over all things, our King, our Judge, our, Saviour.

Take and eat.
Take and drink
Remember.

And remember that he did it all for you.

Friday, November 17, 2017

My Freedom Found

My freedom found
In this one word
Like the tender thunder
Of the unfolded rose
Breathing out my name
In love.

My freedom found
In this one call
Summoning to the edge
Beyond my mapping
Beyond my understanding
Learning trust
In the silent halls of fear.

My freedom found
In this one hope
Blazing the horizon
When my eyes are blind
Giving
Spectral glory
To my tears.

My freedom found
In this one place,
In this one service,
One gladness,
One transcendent truth,
One gladness that has turned all sorrow
Inside out,
One life
Forever.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

After Psalm 42

This is the dry land
Stretching beyond sight
And soaking up our tears

This is the arid land
Unfit for our survival
Desiccating joy
Preserving every skeleton
And the wind of time beats against our faces
Devouring all we are.
Into this land we are born.

But oh, the stars
Brilliant in this dry sky,
Calling,
Calling,
Calling our names, reminding us of more!

Let us not be satisfied with sand
Or call our thirst ‘maladjustment’.
Let our hearts be more than a shell,
A hollow place packed with dust:
Dry, shrivelled, dead,
Where skittering insects crawl across our minds.

Let our thirst become a prayer,
Let us know our need,
In our stumbling and our mumbling let us learn to weep
Even in the dry land.
Till His rivers flow
Deep beyond deep,
And carry us to Love.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Change in the Weather

There is a change in the weather
There is a change in the air.
We don’t altogether approve it
Preferring a forecast of fair.
But the clouds settle down like a blanket,
The wind rises high in the trees
The rain’s pouring down like a torrent
And none of them ask, “if you please?”

Soon comes the thunder and lightning
Soon comes the fierce of the storm
We huddle right down in our comfort
Hoping to stay dry and warm.
But the wind is so fierce in our faces
And the challenge is blazed in our eyes
And we raise up our chins to the tempest
And shout to the thundering skies.

For we were born into the laughter
Of those who would dream and would dare
And a wild, wild blood surges under
The workaday face which we wear.
While the eagle screams out to the mountains
And our tears are washed clean by the rain
We shall not shrink back under cover
But stand up and try once again.

Monday Birds

Here, on a Monday morning,
A craziness of birds
Chirping fit to break the trees.
How can I tell
If this is music,
Or merely agitation?

Even so
Life,
Challenges always
My small discernments,
Stretching my little wisdom
To the place of helplessness,
To the place of choice.

May my confusions
Always lead to prayer
And a deep thanksgiving
That the birds make music still.

Monday, October 30, 2017

My Enemy

I hated him from the time I was old enough to know anything about the world and my place in it. He was everyone’s hero, the man who slew giants and defeated Philistines, the “sweet singer of Israel”, the golden king. He was also the man who stole the throne that had belonged to my family, the usurper, the destroyer.  My grandfather, King Saul had died in battle, so had my father, and it was said that David the usurper had mourned for them. But how could I believe that when the same man had so happily and willingly taken their throne, the throne that should have come to me as the only surviving heir. They said that God had given the throne to David, but what did that make God if he could just take the throne from one family and give it to another, without any just cause?

So I hated him, but, even more, I feared him, for if I hated him, how much more must he hate me, the only living heir to the house of Saul. Admittedly, I probably wasn’t much of a threat to him, since I am a cripple, and the mere thought of my leading Israel into battle would make us a laughing stock amongst the nations, but still, everyone knows that to be a successful king you must destroy all your rivals.

The day came when I was summoned to the house of David. “This is it,” I thought, “he has waited until I am old enough to care about, and now he will surely have me killed.” But I was determined not to shame my lineage, so I obeyed the summons and came. I tried to silence my maddening fear by telling myself that if I could just look into his eyes I would know the truth about his heart. Surely it would be easier to die if I could go to my death scorning the one who sent me there?

How ignorant I was! I came into his presence and bowed low, doing homage to the throne of Israel even while I resented the one who sat on it. But who is fool enough to antagonise a king? “Mephibosheth,” he said, identifying me by name.

“I am your servant,” I replied formulaically, but I was curious now. There was no condemnation in his tone at all. What was going on?

Then he turned my world upside down and inside out. For sake of my father Jonathan, he was going to restore to me all the lands that had belonged to Saul, and I was to eat at his table like an honoured member of his own family! A man does not go to the house of his enemy and find there his greatest benefactor. A man does not rise in the morning expecting to be condemned to death and finish the day rejoicing in riches and honour.


And I am left pondering. If David is such a man who would lavish love and generosity upon one who was born to be his enemy, in fact, take that enemy into his family like a beloved child, what does that say about the God whom David serves with all his heart?

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Kiss of God

This peace: the sun retreats, the air is still.
The light a golden chrism touching all
Soon the stars light their candles, one by one,
Soon I’m transfixed by their high silver call.
And, knowing only this is wholly good,
I tremble to receive the kiss of God.

There is a largeness in the air tonight
Where conversations gleam and dance and thrill
Where soul reveals a naked glimpse to soul
And is received in all its good and ill.
And, knowing only this is wholly good,
I tremble to receive the kiss of God.

Prayer, and the lifting up of little hands
Into their Father’s strong and sturdy grasp,
Knowing he listens to our every breath,
Knowing we’re safe forever in his clasp.
And, knowing only this is wholly good,
I tremble to receive the kiss of God.

Mercy, it breathes through every breath we take,
Grace that can raise our brokenness to bliss
He is my God who gives himself to me,
I, though I flounder, I am wholly his.
And, knowing only this is wholly good,
I tremble to receive the kiss of God.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The Party

You think you know who your friends are, don’t you? Well, I thought I did, and by my time of life you would have expected to have it all sorted out. After all, it’s a long time since we were fickle children, quarrelling and changing playmates in a way that no adult could ever hope to keep up with. I knew, because I am a man of the world and not unobservant, that people can turn away from you when things go badly; I did not know, until now, that they can turn away from you when you offer them something good. It seems I do not understand people nearly as well as I thought I did.

I remember the day I first planned my banquet. Life has been good and I have been blessed with more abundance than I had ever dreamed of. I looked around me with pleasure, and then the thought struck: wouldn’t it be good to share all this with my friends? So I sent out my servants with the save the date cards, and everyone replied that they would be very happy to come. So I started my preparations, wanting to put together the best party that has ever been seen in these parts. Such scrubbing, such shopping, such planning, such baking! I even gave my servants extra pay for all their hard work helping me turn my dream into a reality, and I smiled to myself as I ran around busy with everything. What fun this was going to be!

Then the day of the big event arrived and I sent my servants out to fetch the guests. They went out smiling with anticipation, they returned looking downcast and forlorn. My friends weren’t coming! Every single one had returned an excuse of the sorry but I’m too busy” kind. And what flimsy, insulting excuses they were. One had just bought a field and had to go and check it out. Really? Who buys a field sight unseen? And, ahem, the field would still be there just the same tomorrow, since it can’t exactly get up and move somewhere else! Another said he’d just bought himself a yoke of oxen and had to check them out. Seriously? He’d just spent all that money on them without checking them first? I knew him to be a canny businessman; I simply didn’t believe it.

The last one to come back was the most insulting of them all. He couldn’t come because he’d just got married! He was supposed to be my friend and not only did he not invite me to his wedding, but he planned it to clash with my big party. I had some very dark thoughts then, imagining all my “friends” gathered at this wedding, laughing at my failed party.

But I am not a man to be easily defeated. If my so-called friends couldn’t make it, I wasn’t going to let it spoil things. I would find myself some other guests. So I called my servants back and told them to go out into the highways and the byways, the forgotten places that no one cares about, and give my invitation to the people you find there – the poor, the broken, the disabled, the rejected, and compel them to come to my party.

Well, they did, and they came, and we had the best night of my life. I have new friends now, people who actually want to come to my house. But as we cleaned up the day after, I gazed around, giving thanks for such a blessing, and a new thought struck me. Do I treat God the way my friends treated me, happily nodding and saying “yes, yes,” until he wants a real commitment from me?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Lewis and Hathaway

They walk together,
The kind man and the pilgrim soul,
Through the dream clad city
(Where the heart is always young,
And thirsty),
And every base desire
Is cloaked up in such sophistries
As dazzle Byzantium,
Confusing and alluring in a serpent dance.

Truth is always journey’s end
The difficult journey,
Obfuscated, obstacle,
And fraught with every fear.
All revelation
Reverts self-revelation just like Newton’s Law.
And who can bear such light?
Only humility
Can walk straight through the maze.

Here stars sing poetry,
Scientists meddle in subjectivity,
Historians flinch at facts,
We are all bent creatures,
Imagining the grasp of Sauron’s ring,
While Alice sits within the gliding boat,
And Narnia demands “Become a child!”

And so the kind man and the pilgrim do
What Oxford always does;
Sit, drink, and talk,
Until they reach the meeting of the minds,
The clarity which is felicity
And charity shall hold the torch up high.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

That was my Springtime

That was my springtime, then,
When tears washed my whole world clean
And watered in love made new.
Was that your springtime too?

That was my springtime, then,
When I first raised my eyes
And gazed into infinite blue.
Was that your springtime too?

That was my springtime, then,
Blossoms torn off by pain
But then new wonders grew.
Was that your springtime too?

That was my springtime, then,
Bleakness and shearing wind
And yet soft sun broke through.
Was that your springtime too?

That was my springtime, then,
All seemed so small and plain
And yet the wild birds flew.
Was that your springtime too?

That was my springtime, then,
When falsehoods thaw and wane
Learning that joy was true.
Was that your springtime too?

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Woman and the Whispers

Years ago she had learned to hold her head high amongst the whispers, even when her heart was breaking. They didn’t attack her directly, a priest’s wife had some status still, even a barren one, but she knew the hushed voices and the quickly averted eyes, the not-quite-hidden mockery. She knew it all, because her own heart was her fiercest critic. How could she have failed so badly when she had tried so hard? Why were her arms so empty when, every day, she saw careless women, shallow women, even pagan women, with babies in their arms?  Was there some secret sin for which the Lord had cursed her with an unfilled womb? There was a time when she had wondered if it were her husband, Zechariah, who was at fault, but he was a good man, who earnestly sought the Lord. It could not be him. Besides, hadn’t she been taught all her life that these things were a woman’s responsibility. And now that she was too old for any possibility of pregnancy it was all a settled misery that she showed to no one.

Then came the day when her husband came home from serving in the temple. His tongue was silent but his face was radiant, and when he tried to write out on a tablet what had happened to him, she wondered if he had gone mad. What was this talk of angels and babies, of unbelief and dumbness? She had no idea what to make of any of this, but it was troubling. It stirred up old wounds, and in the silence of the night she cried out to God.

But as the weeks passed, she noticed the changes in her body, changes that would have filled her with joy twenty or thirty years before. But now she was confused. How could she be pregnant now, when her fertile years had brought her nothing? Could she be imagining this, self-deceived by the very desperation of her longings? And what if she lost the child? Wouldn’t that just invite further scorn from the mockers, further whispers in the corner? For five months she hid herself away from public scrutiny, afraid; yet even as she felt the waves of doubt and fear roll over her, she felt something else as well – a whisper of joy that would not be silenced, but as the unborn child grew, it grew as well, a secret angelic hymn of praise in her heart. Despite her aching, aging limbs and the growing weight within her, she wanted to dance down the street and sing out to the gossips and the whisperers that her reproach had been taken away.

And when she was six months pregnant, the last whisper of doubt was silenced, for her cousin Mary came from Nazareth, with a story even more wondrous than her own, and at their meeting, the Holy Spirit came upon her and she understood, and cried aloud her wonder and her praise. And the child in her womb leapt in wonder and delight (could such a thing even be?), for he recognised his Lord and his messiah, and, even before birth he was committed to his role to be the forerunner to call Israel back to repentance, just as Elijah had done in his own time. For the King was coming.

And the two women, one old and one young, but both caught up into the glory of the same story, embraced and wept and went into the house together. There was so much they needed to talk about.

And the whisperers never troubled Elizabeth again


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Note to Abusers

Though you break them, they will rise
With stark knowledge in their eyes:
Terrible what they have seen,
Terrible where they have been,
But it is your soul that died,
Leaving raging lust inside.

Power is the drug you yearn
For the pain you won’t discern.
For the things you will not own
Play you like a gramophone
With a scratchy, broken tune
Howling to a silent moon.

Put in place your plastic smile!
It won’t hide the crocodile
Lurking just below your skin
Ravening for another sin,
This dark hunger won’t be fed
Till it eats you and you’re dead!

Every time you harm a child
You yourself become defiled

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Parable of the Plants

I was dreaming, and in my dream I saw a vast plain, stretching to the horizon.  A high wall of solid rock divided the plain, so that one side of the wall was in brilliant sunlight, and the other in perpetual shadow, with only a kind of twilight from the glow on the other side of the wall. All over the plain there were green plants. On the sunlit side the plants were not yet fully mature, but they were flourishing, and as they grew you could see that each plant was unique, bearing its own kind of fruit or flowers. Some were bushes, some were young trees, each of them had room to spread its branches, and all of them were beautiful.

It was different on the dark side. They had rigged up artificial lights to help them grow, but the wavelength of the light was wrong somehow, and the more they leaned towards these false lights, the more their growth was distorted. Some were taller, some were shorter, some were stronger, some were weaker, but none of them bore fruit. They blamed each other for their lack of growth. “You’re crowding me!”, or,  “You’re taking my space”, or “my soil” etc., were common complaints. Everything was competitive.

Every so often the word would go around that the only way to flourish was to be uprooted from the dark side and replanted on the bright side. Occasionally a plant would cry out “I surrender!” and a giant hand would reach down from the sky, pluck it out of the ground and transport it to the other side of the wall. Most of the plants around it would be horrified, it looked like a form of death, but sometimes another plant would be moved to cry out its surrender too, and be transplanted.

And as I watched, it seemed like time was speeding up, and the dark side was growing darker, and the bright side was growing brighter …

This was my dream, make of it what you will

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

I will thank

For the gentling of my days
For these moments in the sun,
Rainbow’s promise, spring’s caress,
I will thank the Holy One.

For hard truths that shaped my soul
Bitter tears and hopes undone,
Dreams that crashed and wings that smashed
I will thank the Holy One.

For the joy of simple things,
Gladness, merriment and fun,
Smiles like gifts across our days
I will thank the Holy One.

For the beauty of this world
Reaching out to pierce and stun,
Splitting wide my calloused heart
I will thank the Holy One.

For the promise and the peace,
All His suffering has won,
Mercy that will hold me fast
I will thank the Holy One

 For the wonder of such love,
Love that loved ere stars and sun,
Love forever and beyond,
I will thank the Holy One.

Monday, September 04, 2017

The Sad One

She had lost her freedom, and her honour, and now her child. Less than a year ago she had been a free woman, the honourable wife of an honourable man. But that part of her life was gone forever. One night had changed her destiny and ruined her hopes. And all because she was keeping the law …

It had been the time of her monthly purification, and she had been bathing herself, just as the law of Israel decreed. As she washed, she had been dreaming of her husband Uriah, and how she wished he was home with her instead of away with the army. But then, of course, he would not have been the man she loved if he had not put a high value on his duty.

She had barely finished drying herself and dressing, when there was a knock on the door. Surprised, she had run to open it (could it possibly be her husband?), only to find a messenger from the palace saying that King David wanted to see her. Bewildered (what could a man she had never met possibly want with her?), she complied. One does not disobey a king.

She should have known. In the months that followed she castigated herself frequently with those words. What did a man ever want with a woman? But would knowing have made any difference? One does not disobey a king. It was a night that shamed and confused her, but she resolved to think no more of it, especially since there was nothing she could do about it. But then she found that she was pregnant, and that changed everything. She would be disgraced if she bore a child when she had not seen her husband for months. So she sent word to the king. She did not know what he could do, but the whole situation was his responsibility, and he must somehow make it right.

She was not quite sure of the sequence of events that followed – men did not take women into their counsels. She heard rumours that her husband had been summoned to the palace, but he did not come near her, and she tossed through sleepless nights wondering what was happening. Then they sent her a message that Uriah had died in battle, and she was to come and join the king’s harem. Again, what could she do? Her honour might be saved (was there honour in a king’s harem?), but she wept for her husband, now lost to her forever, and that she would never again be mistress of her own home.  And she wondered what exactly David had done, though perhaps it was better not to know.

And now this child, whose coming had disrupted her whole life, was dead. She had lost everything.  Sure, there was every luxury here, but what was that compared to freedom? Her heart questioned and her soul wept. Her honour and her self-respect lay in tatters. She did not imagine that God himself would restore her and lift her up to be part of the lineage of the Messiah who was to come.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Way Back

One more step
Then another
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.