Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rich beyond all splendour

Christmas eve we went to a nearby church for their 10 pm service, since it was logistically impossible to get our own church on Christmas day (I had one side of the extended family all turning up for lunch, and the other side for tea, and my back still has its limitations). We sang a song I had never heard of before, though the tune was familiar, i had learned it in school choir as an old French carol "Whence is that goodly fargrance .." While I love the traditional carols (at least the D & M ones)it was special to have the story retold from a fresh angle, with different images. The modernised words we sang are copyright, but dear old Google found me the original online ...

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becomes poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.

-- Frank Houghton (1894-1972)

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Next Morning

Softly, quietly, treading slowly,
In the cold, grey early morning,
While the town is barely stirring,
After such a night as this.

Fading stars still glint like carols,
Where, before, a few scant hours,
Music shimmered through the night sky.
Was there such a night as this?

Angel songs of alien beauty
Breaking through, to break our senses
Where the veil twixt earth and heaven
Tore, on such a night as this.

Now with trembling steps we falter
To the beast-cave, cold, forgotten ..
What remains? What changed forever,
After such a night as this?

Just a baby, and His mother
Sleep, exhausted in the shadows
Can this be what changed the whole world
Causing such a night as this?

Ponder, then, how strange God’s way is
Through the tiniest chink to enter
While the heedless world was sleeping
Missing such a night as this.

Through this channel, this small baby
Weary, human, helpless, broken,
God transcendent, mercy’s promise
Born on such a night as this.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What Christmas means to me ..

I feel I ought to be saying something profound about Christmas, but I find it difficult. The really important things have all been said already. To me the overwhelming thing is always the enormous disjunction between the baby in the manger, and all the warm, sentimental human feelings that surround our feelings about babies, and His absolute Deity. This child, carried in a woman’s womb for nine months, born, presumably, with all the agony, and messiness, and annihilation of all dignity that human birth involves (Is there a ladylike way to give birth? A saintly, sanitised way? In a stable? Hmm .. get real!), needing to be fed, and changed and cleaned and loved, is the transcendent Lord of all, whose ways are not our ways and whose thoughts are not our thoughts. And this child, whose imagined image is made over-familiar through thousands of thousands of artists depictions, all showing Him angelically fair, and irresistibly cute, has come into this world deliberately, for no other purpose than to be that other familiar religious image – the tortured saviour, Who, if the image veers even slightly towards realism, is suffering a pain from which we turn our eyes away, our courage quailing, not just from the obscenity of innocent suffering stripped from the trailing clouds of glory that often obscure it, but also from the guilty knowledge that we are responsible for His pain.

This is why I have a special fondness for the later less familiar verses of the great Christmas songs. In The Bleak midwinter, for example, soppy with Victorian sentiment, and seasonally inaccurate, has one verse whose grasp of the transcendent awes me every time:

Our God, heaven cannot hold him
nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away
when he comes to reign:
in the bleak midwinter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

(Thankyou Christina Rossetti, all is forgiven).

Likewise that magnificent verse of What child is this?:
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

And, after all these years, Hark the Herald Angels sing still moves me deeply with such lines as:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

To me Christmas is all about the incarnation of my God, breaking into the darkness of this world, enduring all that it means to be human, suffering, dying, loving me, and rising again in triumph to change the world forever ..
The only possible right response to Christmas is worship, with everything I am, to the One who is everything, and became nothing, so that through Him I might have all things ..

Christmas card mythology

Child for all times remade into our own,
By some divine benevolence brought forth
To pat us on the back the while we choose
Inflated price tags for our Christmas worth?

Mangers are sanitised. The gentle beasts
Smile down benignly on the pristine straw,
Where bloodless childbirth brought no dirt or pain
And all is very seemly – nothing more!

This seemly? This – that full divinity
Mind-shattering majesty, all holiness,
Weight beyond worlds should, in our form confined,
Embrace deliberately our wretchedness?

The absolute is here made mutable.
Perfected joy puts on our misery.
The infinite is bound, the maker made:
And we hide truth with our cheap artistry!

He became man ..

Ten million angels bow to your command
Yet here you lie diminished in the straw
The tongue that spoke the universe to be
Is silent, and our tongues are stilled with awe.

We clutch and grasp to magnify ourselves
Yet you let go of all your being’s might
Our smallness to endure, becoming less
Than we would bear, to bring our darkness light.

This is the mystery the ages hid
Nor men nor angels could suppose or scan
But now its wonder is revealed to us
The miracle of God becoming man.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Mary Speaks

What must it have been like, for 9 months, trying to reconcile the ordinary discomforts of pregnancy with her extraordinary situation? How do you actually LIVE through something like that?

Each day I must struggle to stand
In the balance between mundane and miraculous:
The glory of the angel and my swollen, lumbering body.

How do I reconcile
The mysteries I walk in?
The conception that could not be,
And the pregnancy that is ..

In the moment of exaltation
It is easy to forget
It is not the sharp fear that undoes us:
The whispers, the withdrawals,
And the tentacles of doubt
Ensnaring till I near-believe it shame ..

Walking between the scorn of man
And the sure word of God
(spoken into my body that I may not doubt)
I flounder to find a place:
The stillness of the mystery,
The dull ache in my back,
The Life that moves within me
And the life that I must live ..

A gospel for failure

Wrote this as a comment elsewhere, and wanted to copy it over here

To me this is less about moral failure, we already have a gospel that's supposed to cover that, but about being one of the "also-rans" in life. Our Aussie culture is traditionally less success-oriented than American culture, but I have seen a marked change in the last 20 years or so, and it has definitely affected the church. So if you're not thin enough. young enough, articulate enough, earning good money, well-educated, happliy married, etc etc, you fly under the radar. Likewise if you're shy, have significant health problems, are an abuse victim or any other significant personal problems, the church simply doesn't know what to do with you. You don't fit the image, you're not one of "us". Yet i wonder if, to some of those who have it all in this world, Jesus wouldn't say "they have their reward already"
Blessed are the poor, the broken, the confused, the rejected, the struggling and the needy. God is very near to those of a contrite and lowly heart. Sometimes we forget that the Jesus we are called to follow never founded a mega-church or won a popularity contest. He had no beauty that we should desire Him, and was despised and rejected of men. I don't think we can have a gospel for the failed and the needy and the broken until we come back to the foot of the cross and see how the death of jesus brings to nothing all the successes we would claim for ourselves, even our successes in His service. only there, where we are forced to admit that we really have nothing except Him, will we learn how to open our arms and embrace those who embarrass us by openly displaying the reality of failure and neediness

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

6 ways I'm weird

Suzanne R has this meme up, and I thought I'd have a go. It's hard though, since my daughter's not around to inform me. I mean, I think I'm totally normal, of course! It's the rest of the world that's weird!

These will just be in the order I think of them:

1) I answer to the name Pickle (or even Naughty Pickle) and have a long running joke with some e-friends about how unethical it is for them to eat pickles!

2) I hate wearing shoes and will go barefoot whenever temperature and social situation permit (which means, in mild Sydney, I'm barefoot at home for about 8 months of the year. Women who have a *thing* on shoes mystify me (I'd rather buy books)and I haven't owned a pair of heels since i was a teenager. Ditto for pantyhose .. I only wear them when absolutely necessary; the last time was at my son's wedding, almost 5 years ago.

3)I have a purple kitchen. Why not? Purple is my favourite colour. The cupboards are limed wood, the benchtops neutral and the splashback tiles off white, but the painted areas on the walls is a glorious deep violet!

4) I don't like the radio, and never listen to it. I just hate being randomly talked at or having music played at me that isn't my choice (so I have never heard most current music) I am really comfortable with silence, and when I'm cooking, driving or other such activities I generally play cds. Likewise I never turn on the tv unless there's something secific I want to watch. And I rarely watch tv if another family member isn't watching it with me. To me (ok, weirdly) watching is a social activity, on my own I'd rather read a book or play on the computer.

5) I make up rhymes for fun as well as try my hand at serious poetry. When my kids were little we had all kinds of funny little songs (set to familiar tunes, I'm no muso)about their toys etc. I have also been known to sit in church listening to a sermon and write my sermon notes as rhymed verse (on the spot) what can i say? it helped me pay attention!

6) when I was a kid i had imaginary friends: Dulcie Duckling, Doctor Castle, the sydney da-das (don't remember much about them)and the Boys and girls of National Park.

and a bonus 7th:
7) I believed in fairies till I was nearly 8. I wasn't really sure that they existed, but I'd heard the bit in Peter pan about how every time a child says they don't believe in fairies a fairy drops dead, and I didn't want to murder any fairies, so I stuck to my guns even though I was teased at school for it. In the same vein of childhood innocence/ignorance I didn't know the basic difference between the genders till i was 11, and was given a book on the subject. I thought the difference between boys and girls was that boys' hair didn't grow! (proof that I had no brothers I guess)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Prestige

Saw this movie on Friday night and loved it. Complex plot, interesting setting (the rivalry between two stage magicians in Victorian London), great photography, mostly great acting, no sex scenes or bad language (an unusual bonus) and only a little violence (but very nasty, I had to turn my eyes away a couple of times, but then I have a VERY low threshold for coping with on screen violence – I mean, I’m the girl who can’t bear to watch a football match (rugby, this is Australia) because it’s too violent!!

It raised some issues worth pondering though. (I don’t want to give away any of the plot, it would spoil it) but the nature of identity is one of them. What makes me “me”? What are the boundaries of this thing I call my “self”? How much of “me” can be taken away before I cease to exist? How do I define what is “me” from what is not me? How far can I truly enter into another’s experience? At what point does the vicarious become a real experience? How much personal “dying” can I do without becoming impersonal? What is the delineation between sacrifice and suicide?

And that’s for starters. I don’t know the answers, I’m not a philosopher, just a pickle. But I do know that some of the answers the characters came up with were the wrong ones, and very disturbing. To me, part of being a Christian is knowing that, having surrendered my identity to Jesus, it is safe in His hands. Even though I keep trying to take parts of it back, He will be true to the fundamental transaction and hold my “soul” (whatever exactly that is) in His eternal keeping. I once, long ago read a line of a poem,(I have no idea by whom) that said:
“As long as the self can say ‘I’, it is impossible not to rebel”
And that is part of our human dilemma. But there is a deeper and greater truth:
“It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me”
I suspect it takes a lifetime to understand that experientially. Meanwhile there is another truth we can cling to, in the vicissitudes and confusions of daily living, a transcendent truth which protects us, even in our brokenness, from some of the follies of the characters in this movie:

“There is nothing in all creation that can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Of the increase of His government...


Now Alleluias shall be sung
Across the portals of the dawn,
For unto us a child has come:
The king of Heaven has been born.

The government of all that is
He carries as a little thing;
The reaches of the skies are His,
And, for His praise, the angels sing.

He lies within the manger's straw,
And 'Wonderful' shall be His name.
He Whom the seraphim adore
Has come to make Himself our shame.

He is, still is, the Mighty God
Whose hands hold all eternity.
His first steps have not yet been trod,
But they shall lead to Calvary.

He is the Father, He Whose heart
Yearns for the stricken and defiled:
Thus, from His glory to depart,
And take our place, the given child.

And peace shall be His Kingdom's fruit,
Dear blessed peace 'twixt God and man;
For He shall stretch to bridge that gulf
Which nothing but a cross can span.

And though, for now, His world is held
Within a stable poor and small,
His kingdom's increase shall not end
Until He is the Lord of all.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


In my heart is such mutability,
That all the fine words I so quickly say
Are rendered null by my futility;
Upon the heights of praise I cannot stay.

Rooted I would be, but, a withered leaf,
Made sapless by my own inconstancy,
Tossed in the fickle breezes of mischance,
I stand revealed in my hypocrisy.

Into Your truth, then, graft me very fast.
Blow, Holy Breath, return me to that vine
Where, into mergence, all my self is cast,
Then You will lift to heights I may call mine.

Then You will hold me, driftless, unto You,
Whence is all being, all stability.
Here is a root to hold all that I do,
You, Who are life, must be my constancy.

Fallen world?

I love this cartoon I found this morning. Wrong application of right theology? aren't we all guilty of that?
The pharisees were.
Every christian who uses morality to judge a brother or sister is.
Every christian who uses the doctrine of New Creation as an excuse to ignore their responsibility to this one is.
Every christian who being born again makes them superior is
Every christian who turns godly authority into authoritarianism is.
And the list goes on ..

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Not staying ..

I guess those who have been there will understand. I wrote this one in a very hard time:

Hell shall not be the place to hang my hat.
In the looming darkness, when the stars seem washed away
I shall make no habitation, and refuse all visiting.

What must be is passed through.

I have another city, though I have not seen its lineaments.
Mapless, I persevere, hand-held and reliefless.
Rejecting all alternatives – I know their dark true name
And, knowing, will have none of them,
Despite their siren songs.

Beyond light, my city
Stands, with solidity beyond my fleeting flesh
Welcoming her sons and daughters
Summoning them home.
I, mazed and broken, scarce can hear the call;
But follow anyway
The pitiless call of truth half-heard, half-known
But wholly, blindly, absolutely loved!


Well, after 5 days of no internet access, (entirely the ISP's problem)I am back online. There are several things I want to blog on in the next few days, but, for now, I want to put up this quote of Spurgeon's on depression (spotted over at cerulean Sanctum). I have never suffered clinical depression myself, but I know how it feels to have a shredded soul, and one of the things that upsets me in Christendom is the way we shoot our wounded instead of being a safe place where the grace and mercy of God is demonstrated. I was personally told, when i was in the throes of dealing with abuse issues, that my distress, doubts, questions, fears etc were sins. Oddly enough, that didn't solve anything!!
Spurgeon is well known, not only for his preaching, but for his heavy bouts of depression. This is what he said:

I know that wise brethren say, ‘You should not give way to feelings of depression.’ … If those who blame quite so furiously could once know what depression is, they would think it cruel to scatter blame where comfort is needed. There are experiences of the children of God which are full of spiritual darkness; and I am almost persuaded that those of God’s servants who have been most highly favoured have, nevertheless, suffered more times of darkness than others