Sunday, December 26, 2010

Perfect light

I have waited so long.
I have seen the darkness gather
In our hearts and in our hands.
I have walked the streets and felt the pain,
The sorrow in the stones;
And known this Jerusalem
Has not been built to last.

I have felt the anguish of the prophets
And groaned in the loudness of the temple
Where hurrying priests have blood on their hands
And piety on their lips.
The desolation is with us even now
And yet we do not know.

O my God I have waited
Through the fat years and the lean
Knowing all Israel broken
Till her consolation comes....
And rested on your promise
Through the night.

And now this stretched flesh
Rejoices in wonder.
I have seen your salvation
With my own tear-worn eyes.
I have breathed in your glory
In the clear gaze of a child.

And now I can let go.
For my prayer has been answered
And another bears the load –
Bears the burden of us all.
And the light shines in the darkness
That the whole world may behold.
Perfect Light.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Walking backwards to Jerusalem,
I did not know her nearness.
The sun beat down in waves,
The moon was silent,
And all our yesterdays hung in the dust –
Choking my cracked lips.

I am no Chanticleer,
Briskly proclaiming morning with bright relish.
I camp where the ghosts sleep
In the country of regret.
Declining stony pillows
Lest the angels break my sleep.

Frozen ponds
Mock my cold thirst.
It is always winter in the tyranny of silence:
Down where the slow fish gnaw
In numbing cold,
And daybreak never comes.

Still, O Jerusalem,
Your lovely streets torment me.
There is no way I can raise
Your sweet foundations
Here in this frozen wallow
Where the sunlight never comes.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Star Speaks..

Without words, I have been watching for centuries – simply watching. From a clear sky I watched the first ones as they left the garden, just as the cool of the evening turned to night, holding each other and blindly weeping as they stumbled down the hill. Those were the first tears, and they were the shape of all that has followed. It was not time for me to react, but I saw how their pain was part of an infection that turned the whole world drear and miserable.

There came a day when my sight was obscured by more than darkness, when great grey clouds covered the earth, and the rain fell and fell, till you would have thought it was impossible for there to be any more water left. And when the clouds finally cleared the whole world was awash, with only that little boat, bobbing on the water, containing all that was left of humanity. Within a year, it was the rainbow’s turn to speak.

I was there the night that God called Abram to come out and count the stars. His gaze passed across me as he looked up in the clear desert night, awed by our overwhelming numbers. He did not notice me in any particular way, it was not my turn, I was content to wait the millennia until God’s appointed moment. Why are humans always so impatient that they cannot wait for God’s beautiful time? Is it because death is always breathing down their necks, whispering in their ears that the time is short and they dare not wait? Is death always louder in their lives than God’s own words?
I have watched and I have seen, and if a star could weep I would have shed great tears of fire for the folly and the ruin that humanity has wrought. I have seen them give their lives and their children’s lives to gods who were no gods, but spirits of evil, seeking only to devour. I have seen famine and disease and pestilence; I have seen war and rape and torture, betrayal, mockery and indifference. But I am a star, and not subject to the tyranny of Death, I am free to listen to the music of God, the chords of glory that undergird the universe, and unlike the humans I know that all these horrors are transitory things; in a little while they shall vanish, overcome by the triumph of everlasting love.

And then it was my turn to speak – no, not with words but with signifying action: to blaze with a great light and to travel across the sky from east to west at a precise speed to reach a precise place at a precise time. As usual, the humans didn’t get it quite right, stopping off at Jerusalem on the way, but God had providentially known even this, and in the end it all went exactly as He ordained.

This was the thing He had created me for. I had seen the birth of Death, but now I was the herald of the birth of the one who would strike Death dead, the one who would, in due course, willingly enter into death, and shatter it from the inside out. God Himself would do this impossible thing. For who else could? Without words I had watched the drama of human pain and futility unfold, but now the Word Himself had been made flesh, constraining Himself to grow within a woman’s body, and the heavens themselves moved to announce this wonder.

My great light has dimmed now, but I await another Day, another entry of Almighty God Himself into the world that He has made. Then there will be a whole New Creation and sin and death will be banished forever. And while I wait I remember how it all began, way back in the very beginning, when the morning stars sang together before the face of God. One day we will have words again.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Mystery of Love

Even though she meant to quietly slip into the back row of the church, so that her late arrival would draw no attention, she couldn’t do it. The aisle seats were taken, and no one seemed to be in any hurry to move across and make room for the latecomer. She started excusing herself and clambering through the small space between their knees and the back of the pew in front of them – that was embarrassing enough – but then she knocked over someone’s walking stick that had been left propped there, and down it went with an awful clatter. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, too loudly, and bent to retrieve it. In the process she dropped her hymnbook, which fell on someone’s foot. She assumed the kick on her shins was purely reflexive, but it hurt just the same. By the time she slid into her seat, her face was burning. She sat there, staring at her feet, ostensibly in prayer but really just trying to compose herself. Her stepmother would have something nasty to say about this too, she thought. And there she’d been trying to do the right thing for once ..
By the time she was really aware o
f her surroundings, the choir had risen and started singing “Christians awake!” – a rather eccentric choice, surely, for a Christmas Eve service, with it’s explicit reference to “this happy morn”? But no one else seemed worried.
“ .. rise to adore the mystery of love ..” they sang. The words gave her pause. Surely, by the time you were an adult, the only mystery about love was why you ever fell for it in the first place? She had learned her lesson, and learned it hard. No man was ever going to seduce her again with a lot of empty words about how much he loved her.

Of course, the family had no idea yet that she was pregnant. How could she ever tell them? The mere thought of her father’s pain and her stepmother’s scorn was unbearable. Far better that she should just get rid of it, and they need never know. Far better. The only sensible thing to do.

Then why didn’t she go ahead? If she didn’t do something soon, it would be too late. After all, her child was certainly no “Virgin’s Son” like the choir was blithely carolling about, and in the small-town, church-centred world of her family, that was still a matter for deep shame. So why not? Apart from being single, she was just at the difficult beginning of her career. There was simply no room for a baby in her life.

But then, wouldn’t Mary have said the same thing? Not only was she single, the man she was going to marry was not the father of her child. Mary would have had far more social shame to deal with than she could even imagine. And yet she said yes. It was a mystery.
And Jesus – how could He bear to come down to a world where people would have said such cruel evil, untrue things about His mother? Surely He would rather punish them than die for them? It made no sense. There was something going on here that she couldn’t get her head around. It was a complete mystery.

Just then she realised that the choir were finishing the carol with a repetition of the first verse. There it was again: “the mystery of love”. In spite of herself, she smiled ruefully. There was a mystery of love here: Mary’s love for God, who asked so much of her, and of the baby she was willing to risk so much for. Even bigger was the mystery of God’s love for evil, cruel human beings. How could he?

But if this mysterious love lay at the heart of all things, then there was mercy for herself as well. No, she wasn’t pure like Mary, but now she realised that she was utterly forgiven. And if so much mercy was given to her, shouldn’t she show mercy on her unborn child as well? Shouldn’t this child, made by the hand of God and nestling deep in her body, have the right to live, and breathe and grow into whatever sort of person God had created them to become? If Mary had been able to find courage for love’s sake, then surely she could do the same, could find it from the same source?

It was enough. Even if there was no room for her with her own family, in this great story of salvation there would be room for this little child. And God would show her what to do, and what would be right for the child. For at the heart of the mystery of love was courage and faith.

The organ crashed its chords, she rose with the rest of the congregation and started to sing: “Love came down at Christmas ..”

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Older ...

The womb is empty and the flesh is sere,
The bud burst long ago, now petals fall
Across the wind-stained clamour of the dust.
They earn no silence now, and that is all.

Once lions strode, and myths with brilliant face
Enacted promises and mystery;
But they have gone where all our childhoods go,
And left some little bones called history.

No words – except the ones we learned to speak,
And slide their nets across the vast abyss
Of those lost longings where the kraken dwells:
A murmured rumour that we dreamed amiss.

But what are dreams, except the soul’s lost song:
Stunted in darkness, wondering for light,
The habit of the heart immaculate,
Faith’s only mirror till we come to sight.

Therefore I will abjure the monochrome,
The grinding sameness locked in Mammon’s frame.
The revelation of my emptiness
Is space for the resounding of the name.

And though I fail, like every meteor fails,
That is no matter. Wind and wave obey.
These ligaments, undone, to darkness fall,
For a short moment, then it shall be day.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Before the Dawn

It was still dark, and the air hung heavy with the promise of morning. In a while the sun would be rising, the day would begin, and at first light they must be off. The two servants were already up, and he had asked them to wake the boy, and tell him they were going on a journey. He couldn’t bear to do it himself, he had never lied to the child and didn’t want to begin now. If this ultimate breach of trust was looming between them, it seemed more important than ever to keep faith in the small things, to pour as much love and truth into his son as he could in the little, terrible, time that remained.

As his fingers fumbled in the cold with the leather straps of the donkey’s saddle, he owned himself a coward. He could justify their early start so easily – there was food and water to be organised, the donkey to be saddled, the wood to be cut to make the fire for the burnt offering. At a guess, Mount Moriah was about 3 days journey away, which meant about 6 days journey there and back (assuming there was a journey back – at the moment the whole world seemed turned upside down, and he was certain of nothing). Any prudent man would seek an early start.

But he knew that wasn’t the reason that he was out here, struggling to do the simplest tasks in the pre-dawn darkness. Fearing to face the questions in his son’s eyes was the least of it. Far more significant was the conversation he did NOT want to have with his wife, the boy’s mother. He had murmured something to her last night about going on a short journey and taking the boy, and she, abstracted with other tasks, had merely nodded. But his Sarah was no fool. One look at his face in the cold light of day and she, who had stayed by his side through so many impossible moments, would have the whole truth out of him in five minutes. And then what? How on earth could he possibly explain, possibly justify? There were no human words that could ever make sense of such a thing, certainly none that any mother could accept. Who was he fooling? There were no words that made any sense to him either as a man, as a father. And, when it was over, how would he ever come back to her?

He must keep busy. If he were to stop, if he were to pause, he would never be able to obey. To hesitate for a moment would be to find reasons to hesitate another moment, and in the end obedience wouldn’t happen. He must keep busy, fill his mind with practicalities, like how much wood did he need to take, how much food for 4 people (and would that be only 3 on the way back?). Anything, any detail at all to fill his mind and silence the scream that was rising inside him – a scream about the very God whom he had staked his life on. What do you do when the one to whom you have entrusted all that you are, all that you ever dared to dream or long for, turns around and cuts you down with a demand so outrageous that the very stars stand still for horror?
You try to figure it out. Didn’t God keep all His promises? Had any word of His ever fallen short? In God there was no division between speech and fulfilment, only the passing of time so that human eyes might see the fulfilment unfold. And had not this same God said that through this child, this miracle, this Isaac, his offspring would be reckoned? It made no sense unless God meant to restore the dead to life. How could this be? He did not know, but he had walked too far with God to turn away now. There was no other way to go, no other God to turn to. He must obey, though it cost him all that he was. But could God, high above all human suffering, have any idea of how it felt to give up your only son to die as a sacrifice?

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Grotesque. It was the word that defined his whole life – his whole self. From the day of his birth he had been made to feel that he was an anomaly and an outcast. The cold, polite puzzlement of his mother was almost as rejecting as the sneers of his siblings. ‘Ugly’ was one of the first words they learned to say, and it still echoed in his head. He had become so used to being called ugly that it was only now, looking back, that he realised that his mother had never even given him a name. The others had all been given normal sorts of duck names -- Jackie, Bubbles, Pondie, Wiggler, Billbop – but he didn’t have a name at all. Just “Ugly”, and later on, when their vocabularies got a bit fancier, they started calling him things like Trollface and Featherfright. Did the fact that his mother never bothered giving him a name,( and never tried to stop the others from being mean to him) prove that she had never loved or wanted him at all? He knew she was terribly ashamed to have produced such an ungainly child, one that even the pigs could laugh at.

Why was he so different? He hadn’t set out to be ugly, he certainly hadn’t designed his own face or body! Maybe he was just the punch line of some obscure joke the universe was playing? For the thousandth time he told himself to make an effort to think positive, but he was running out of ideas to find anything to be positive about. Being nobody wasn’t so bad, there were plenty of nobodies around all merrily going about their business: the fish in the lake, the worms underground, the ladybug on a grass stalk who wished him a cheery good morning before she saw who (what?) he was when his shadow fell across her. Most of them were nobody important, some species didn’t even have names, but none of that stopped them from living with a twinkle. But he couldn’t. There was a secret here that he didn’t understand, something important that was hidden from him.

To call himself the reject of the universe seemed absurd – he wasn’t important enough to be the anything of the universe. In the old barnyard they probably didn’t even remember him. Spring was coming, the wind was growing sweeter every day, and somewhere, back in the old barnyard where he used to live, his mother would be checking her eggs to see if they were ready to hatch into a new family of ducklings. He hoped they would all be small and neat and yellow, and waddle the right way and that his mother would love them. It would be beyond bearing that there should be another one as sad as him in the world.

Winter had been hard, and lonely beyond bearing but it was over now, and he couldn’t be quite so desolate when the sunshine caressed his feathers like a whisper of kindness. The ice had almost gone, it would be good to get back in the water. But when he approached the lake there were two swans gliding across it. He looked for some rushes to hide behind, no one so beautiful should have to be offended by the sight of himself. But there were no big beds of rushes to hide in, and the swans had seen him. They were moving towards him, and he was too scared to raise his eyes to see the expression on their faces. Ah well! Maybe this was the best answer he could hope for, that these glorious white birds would kill him, and the whole sorry story would be over. He bowed his head and waited....

“Hello,” said one of the swans, “won’t you join us? You are so lovely!”

He looked around, who could they possibly be talking to? But no one else was there. As his head turned, he caught sight of his reflection. It couldn’t be!!!

He stared and stared, trying to take in this discovery. No wonder he’d been such a hopeless duck – he’d been born to be a swan! This was the secret that had puzzled and eluded him – the truth about himself. He did not have to sidle through the world in shame any longer. He had come into his birthright. Raising his head towards the dancing sky, he slid into the water and went to meet his new friends.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Sparrow

In the end, she found the courage she needed from a sparrow. Later, when she first tried to tell the story, the question inevitably came up: “Why a sparrow? Why not ... oh .. an eagle, for instance?” The question had confused her for a while, trying to find an intelligent response, but then she realised that the answer was actually simple, and lay inside herself. It was all a question of identification. Eagles were already strong, already magnificent, they didn’t need courage, at least not the kind that she needed, because they already had power and glory. She found no power and glory inside herself, only weakness, and fear and fragility. The eagles would always soar without her
But sparrows? Ah, they were different. They were small and timid and drab, the natural prey of bigger, fiercer creatures. She could feel a real affinity with sparrows.

She had lived all her life in bondage to grief and shame. All her life, wherever she was put, the same messages were repeated, messages of personal failure, of never being good enough. She had watched the bright ones and the beautiful ones walk off with all the prizes, while she cowered, forgotten in a corner – a drab little sparrow. There were times when she had almost felt the need to apologise for taking up air to breathe. And, like a sparrow at a cafe, she would make little darting forays around the periphery of life, picking up the tiny crumbs of kindness that happened to fall in her direction.

Once she had heard some preacher say that that a person was worth many sparrows. It was a nice idea, but she didn’t really believe it, at least not to apply to herself. She knew that she was worth almost nothing – because she had been told so all her life. It didn’t matter that she had a big, secret, wonderful dream, she knew that it would never happen to her, because how could she take the necessary first steps? Sometimes she would half-heartedly pray, but with no expectation that would ever be an answer.
But one day she saw the sparrow, and discovered hope. She had come into a cafe to get out of the weather, and was sitting in the darkest corner nursing her drink when the sparrow came. It was not just hopping and fluttering around the outdoor chairs and tables to cautiously seek the crumbs; it came right through the door, into the room, and perched on the counter. The red-faced man behind the counter saw it, reached down underneath, and brought out a small piece of bread, which he proceeded to crumble into a small neat pile on the countertop. And, whilst she scarcely dared to blink her wondering eyes, the sparrow hopped right up there, next to the man, and ate its little feast. Then, when it had finished, it flew once around the cafe then back past the door into the wild and windy world.

Afterwards, she was never quite sure at what point she had said to herself “if he can do it, so can I!” but by the time the sparrow had left, the decision was made. With unusual briskness she rose, paid her bill, and strode out into the spattering rain, with the first steps already formulating in her mind. As she raised her eyes, her attention was caught by a church billboard she was walking past: “I have set before you an open door which no man can shut ..”

It was enough, it was her answer and her miracle. Maybe, at least to God, she could be worth even more than that sparrow? She swirled the idea around in her mind, tasting its sweetness ..

Saturday, October 23, 2010

No Roses

Last time she was here there had been roses – bushes and bushes of them! Late summer it had been then, and heat hung heavy in the sticky air, but not as heavy as the perfume of the flowers. She had smelled them before she had seen them, and literally followed her nose to the source. He had come behind her, laughing at her enthusiasm, and they had stood there, almost drunk with sweetness, and while the bees buzzed hypnotically, he had asked her to marry him. He had turned and picked a blood red rose and placed it in her hand. In the excitement of the moment she didn’t notice that the thorn had caught on her finger, beading blood that almost matched the flower.

But now she remembered, and winced. There were no roses here, and the bitter sky promised sleet to come. Their sunshine had lasted such a short time before war had over-clouded it. He had done the decent thing, the expected thing, and signed up, because he was the kind of man who would always try to do what he believed to be decent and expected. Her tears were useless against the massive, ponderous weight of his good intentions. And as she waved him goodbye – so short a time a wife! -- she had felt the first cold clutch of fear.

And, for once, fear had been a truth-teller, though not in the way she expected. He had not died, mangled and shredded in an explosion of shrapnel, or cruelly corroded within by the fumes of evil gas, but there were shameful moments when she thought that might have been easier to bear. No, he had come back to her, but no longer as himself. The strong, clean-limbed body that had delighted her was now twisted and fumbling, and dependent on a wheelchair to travel more than a few yards. That was bad enough, but not the worst. The worst was that he was no longer the same person. Gone was the huge, laughing patience that had enfolded her in its glad confidence and, instead, there was this tetchy man with frightened eyes who seemed to be always seeking an escape route from reality. “Shell-shock” the doctors called it, but seemed to have no idea whether or not he would get any better.
She sighed deeply and shut her eyes, trying to ignore the tears that squeezed out when she did. Why had she even come here today? Even if the weather held a little longer, she would be soaked and bitterly cold by the time she made it back home. Once, she had stood here when the wild, warm breeze smelled of roses, today it smelled only of the salt wrack of a rising sea, and a beach of dying seaweed. Dying? Yes, that was the real word, the apposite word. She had held out her arms, in trust, to receive roses, and instead they had been filled with filthy slime, and now her life would never be clean again. She had wanted so much, dreamed so big, and now here she was, shackled to a broken man .. Was everything fair and lovely in this world so fragile? Would she never have any hope again?

She dashed her angry tears away with an unseeing hand, and, as she did so, her sleeve snagged and caught on something. She looked down, and saw it was a thorn, a very familiar kind of thorn. What had she been thinking? Had she imagined some murderous emanation of this foul wart had rampaged through the countryside, uprooting all the rose bushes? She blushed at her folly. Just because it was winter didn’t mean that the roses had vanished from the earth. Pruned back for the season they simply waited their time. One day summer would return, and the very air would sing of them once more. Now was the season of waiting, the season of pruning, the season for faith to fasten itself to the certainty of glories yet to come.

She looked closer. There, barely hanging on, was a rosebud – dried, frost-bitten, but definitely a rosebud. Even as she reached towards it, it fell, straight into her outstretched hand. Last time it had been her husband-to-be who put the flower in her hand. This time, she believed, it was God.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Rest well. Here, in the darkness, away from human eyes, rest well in the Sabbath of God, the Sabbath that comes before the first day of Re-creation. Your eyes are shut now, that gazed unflinching on the horrors of death and hell; they shall open again to glory. You drank the cup, the cup is drained, the very last drop has been consumed, death has been swallowed up by Life.

Rest well. The evening closes in, the day comes to an end. It was the sixth day, the day of man and of the brute beasts. Adam’s task is done, and God saw that it was good. God has made all things good, He has made everything beautiful in its time. Then God rested.

Rest well. You were battered and bruised, a thing from which men turn away their eyes. You had no beauty that any should desire you. For you carried sin and death on your shoulders, and their darkness covered you. How odd that men should so callously destroy the Son, yet when the sun was darkened and withdrawn, they were dismayed! You, the altogether beautiful, were reduced to an object of pity and scorn. And now it is over.

Rest well. Life works its miracle in the dark and hidden places: the seed underground, the child hidden in the womb, the body in the tomb, the whisper in the soul. Rest well while we stand guard, awaiting the moment this created world has been aching for. The soldiers guard the stone outside, and have no notion how dark and futile is their watch. They think they have the power of death; they know nothing of the power of Life, and the power of Life for the dead is beyond their imagination. They guard a mere hollow in the rock; here, within, we are guarding the Most Holy Place. We stand like the cherubim on the ark: wings outspread, facing each other, gazing down upon the Mercy Seat which lies between us – the true mercy seat, the broken body of God.

Rest well. You have accomplished all that the Adam did not, could not do. He was exiled from the Tree of Life, You walked with deliberate tread towards the tree of Death, so that all the children of Adam may have life forever more. And the same Father to whom you surrendered all that You are will raise you up, to be the first fruits of them that slept. Creation waits, with hushed breath, for the moment of the miracle.

Rest well. Soon the Father will raise this body to Life, the stone will roll away and the world will be transformed. Soon your disciples will be overwhelmed with joy, and worship you in wonder. Soon you will ascend to the Father’s side and reign forever. But now we await the morning, like a woman waiting for her child to be born. We wait in the Peace of the Father for the coming proclamation of victory. Rest well, Oh Conqueror!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Merciful Rain

I was a child when we left Egypt, but I remember the Nile. I remember how our neighbours would pray to the river, and to the other gods for its yearly flood, for that water was our life – our very existence. I remember the tumult of our leaving, most clearly of all I remember that dreadful passing across the sea bed with that mighty wall of water rising up beside us – a frozen wave just one motion away from crashing over our heads. And, of all the things to remember from the confusion of those times (I was a child, it was all confusing), I remember most clearly my parents explaining as we walked along that we were going to a land where no one had to pray to a river. A river could be spoiled, at the word of the prophet (the word of God Himself), the water of life could be changed to blood—the blood of all those Hebrew babies who had been thrown cruelly into its waters, But this land would be a land watered by God Himself. We would not pray to a river, but turn our eyes upwards to the clouds in thankful prayer, while the mercy of God rained down upon us, bringing fruitfulness, bringing life. For forty years I have cherished those words in my heart.

My parents did not live to see this land. In the starkness of the desert they became afraid, their hearts yearned again for Egypt where they had always been as sure as a slave can be that there would be food and shelter. They forgot the whips of the slave masters, they forgot the grief and terror when their baby boys were snatched away and drowned, in the terror of the desert they imagined that they had once been wonderfully secure. And in the long years of waiting they died, belonging neither to one land or the other.

But I was a child, and the desert was my playground and my great adventure. My memories of Egypt were memories of darkness, and I was glad to leave them behind. To me the vast skies and the searing winds were like a whisper of glory to come. For forty years I have been waiting – sometimes in hope, sometimes in fear, most often in deep weariness. And after forty years I am no longer a child. I have borne children, and my children have borne children, and still we are a nation without a home. I no longer question whether God can preserve us; I have seen His provision in the manna and the quail and the waters found for us in the midst of a dry and barren land. But I had begun to doubt if we would ever have a home, if that lovely land watered directly from heaven even existed. Perhaps it was just the dream-memory of Eden, before that other exile happened at the beginning of the world.

Today we crossed the Jordan. Today I did not see the miracle with the eyes of a child, but with eyes that have spent long years scanning the lonely horizons of the desert. This time I knew what the miracle meant, and as I walked across the riverbed my cheeks were wet with tears. That I should live to see this day! I thought of those who had finished their lives in the lonely spaces between Egypt and the promised land, and I knew that all of us together were called into the promises once given to Abraham. I knew that it was in this land that all the promises would find their fulfilment, for one who was greater than Moses would be born here. I lifted up my face in wonder, and then I was moved by an even greater wonder. For my cheeks were not wet because of tears alone. There was a fine rain falling from the sky, sprinkling all the people of God with the benediction of his mercy. I was not the only one crying. And while the priests and the Levites took their places, and the fighting men went on ahead, we women stood in the rain and wept for wonder and for joy. We had come home, by strange hard paths He had led us to the place where His promises became the solid ground beneath our feet. And we were where we had always been: in the centre of the mercy of God, and He, himself, is our life.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Daily Bread

See them, so many of them, from all ages and all times. In their hearts there are questions, in their eyes, sometimes, there are tears, but they move forward, forward, towards the table, for they know there is no other place to go.

From back in the mists of time they come. See the old woman, her long years of self-doubt bursting forth in a moment of incredulous laughter, now holding the child who is so precious, and so impossible, that even his name means laughter. She comes. See the young man, whose brothers have learned to hate him because he would not know his place as the youngest (bar one) and the least. They have stripped his beautiful coat away, and befouled it to prove their lies, and he himself has been sold as a slave, and must trudge in desolation the weary miles to Egypt. He comes.

So does the man, forty years old, fleeing through the desert to Midian, and trying to understand where it all went wrong. He had wealth and he had privilege, and he wanted to serve his people. But somehow his anger and violence had been the worst thing he could have done for them, and now his name is murderer. He sees no future for himself except as a herder of sheep at the back of the desert.

And this woman, making a comfortable living as a prostitute, who has decided that her city and people have no future, and has chosen to throw in her lot with an alien people and their God. She places a scarlet cord in the window, and waits for the fated moment. She comes.

And still they come. Out of the myriads one can only notice a few individuals. See the little boy, sleeping alone in the temple, and missing the warm arms of his mother. A voice calls him by name in the night, and he learns to say ‘yes, Lord.’ In those words lies his whole future, his whole journey.

See the king, undone by the horror of his own guilt, crying out his wretchedness in a Psalm. See the prophet, so sure he knew all about godliness, undone by a single moment of vision. How could he ever have imagined that he himself was holy when the merest glimpse of God has utterly overthrown him. See another king, with the cruel enemy before his gates, crying out to God for mercy on his foolish, sinful city, and waking in the morning to find the angel of the Lord has been at work. And then, further on still, the young men, the captives, who refuse to worship the image of the earthly glory of a pagan king, and must face the horror of the fire. All of these come, pressing on, because they have nowhere else to go in their neediness and hunger.

And there are more. Shepherds shaken into a new reality by a sky full of angels. Lame people, deaf people, blind people, lepers, even, incredible though it sounds, dead people! A young Pharisee, falling from his horse in the heat of the day, and learning, through 3 days of blindness, just how blind he had been. He comes, and in his wake come a multitude, sentenced to death in cruel and grotesque ways, that the slavering crowd might know a moment’s amusement. After them come the faithful and the confused, the frightened, the lonely and the ones who sing with joy. They come and they keep on coming, and the sound of their song is like the roar of many waters, and as tender as the moment when a tear is wiped away.

They come to the table. Turn them away and their souls will starve. There is only one table, though it may be found in many places, and only one Living Bread from which all may freely eat – their daily bread, doled out with nail-pierced hands. They come and they eat, from Him who is the manna in their wilderness, and the only life which sustains them. Through pain and bitterness, through fear and many questions, they come, they eat, and the song within them is renewed. And as they come and eat they wait for the day when the doors are swung open and they enter the banqueting hall, and the eternal marriage supper is begun.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I have hungered for you, in the sullen afternoon.
Here where the old rocks grind against the sand,
Where the small things shudder, and retreat from the heart’s moonscape,
I have hungered for you in the sullen afternoon.

I have yearned for you in the dark place at the crossroad,
Where the shadows threaten, and the peacock screams against the moon,
And all is dust and ashes, acrid on the cold wind’s moaning,
I have yearned for you in the dark place at the crossroad.

I have sought you not in treachery’s cold stink,
Where the ant-men stoop reluctant underneath their load
Where the bullet’s whine traces the road of sorrow
I have sought you not in treachery’s cold stink.

I have claimed your love in the stillness of the twilight
In the raindrop’s smile, in the petal’s tinge of pink,
The glad exuberance of running water
I have claimed your love in the stillness of the twilight.

I shall breathe your name in the maelstrom of my being
When the whole world heaves, and hope is lost to sight,
Dragged by the chains of Life, I will believe in freedom,
I shall breathe your name in the maelstrom of my being.

I shall find at last my self, held in your hand
While I weep in broken darkness, incapable of seeing,
There is music in my mouth, in a language still unknown,
I shall find at last my self, held in your hand.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nothing in my hands ..

I have tried, Oh heaven, how I have tried. I planned my journey so carefully, investing in everything I could possibly need. There were the expensive walking boots, so I would not be tempted to give up by sore feet, and could brave the stony paths with brisk enthusiasm. I went to the best outdoor outfitters, and spent more than I should on good hiking clothes. I was told that layers were the way to go, so I could just add and subtract to adjust to every temperature variation. And the innermost layers were the most expensive, because moisture must be wicked away from the skin. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, or what dreadful thing would happen if I wore the wrong underwear, but a smart man knows when to take advice from experts, so I did just as they said. Socks, too, it was important to have good quality socks, and be able to change them when your feet got wet. Then there was the cloak, fully waterproofed and lined with thick wool, to keep me safe from the weather, and wrap around me at night if I ever needed to sleep outdoors. Not that I planned on doing that very often, there were hostels along the way (or so rumour had it), and, even if they were overpriced, I would have money. I was also advised to get a particular shade of grey, that would provide good camouflage if I ever found myself in a dangerous situation. And, since we’re talking about keeping safe, I chose my staff with particular care. A pilgrim is not allowed to carry a sword, there are strict rules about that, but if my staff should contain an insert of sharpened, toughened wood, well it’s not really a sword, is it?

Then there was the hat. One needs a wide brim to keep the sun off one’s face and the rain from one’s nose, and the fit must be just right – too loose and it will blow off with the first gust of wind, too tight and you will have a headache before the first day is over. Truly a matter of fine discrimination! Eventually I found one that was just right: high-crowned, with a bright gold buckle on the band, and a bright red feather sticking up. After all, I was journeying to the presence of a king, it would be important to make a good impression when I arrived. Buying a sturdy pack with a light, strong frame and well-padded shoulders was relatively easy,; working out what to carry in it took a lot more effort. There were the obvious things: containers for food and water, a microfiber towel, hand sanitiser, insect repellent (would there be insects? Best play it safe), a swiss army knife, a torch, water purification tablets, lots of money. Then I thought of others – a torch with spare batteries, a camera, to capture those special moments, a box of matches, a mirror to check I looked the part.. And so the list went on.

But there was one thing I really wanted that I couldn’t find anywhere – a map. I searched high, I searched low, even went into second-hand shops, but it was useless. Everywhere they told me the same story – that no map of that journey existed. Some tried to offer me a heavy black book instead, suggesting that this would be my sure guide, But the book was nothing but stories, poetry and songs, and it weighed me down, so I refused it. ..

And now – look at me! The boots were the first to go – sucked off my feet in the mud of a bog. It’s amazing how far a person can walk with rags tied round their feet. My hat blew away in a storm, I bartered my cloak for food, and all the contents of my pack were lost or stolen along the way. It’s probably just as well I lost the mirror, I think if I could see what I look like now, I would lose my last wavering thread of courage. My clothes are nothing but filthy rags, and the patent underwear got used along the way for wrapping my feet. My special staff was snatched from my hands the first time I tried to defend myself – and then they beat me with it before running off into the night. I have no idea how I made it this far, especially as I never had a clue where I was going.

I have nothing left. How can I come into the King’s presence like this? I am filthy, sick and useless. Once I thought the King would be honoured when I brought Him the gift of my service, now I know better. I have nothing in my hands at all, unless you count the scars and the dirt of the journey. And yet .. and yet ... I have nowhere else to go. If He will not receive me I will be a beggar at his door all the days of my life.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Scarecrow

I am the scarecrow, the tatterdemalion, the object of ridicule. By all normal human standards, I am a fool, and properly despised for my folly. You will not want to know me; still less will you ever want to be me. I have thrown away the tangible benefits of this world for some “good” which you cannot see, hear, smell, taste or touch. Sometimes I cannot even tell you what that good is supposed to be, I just know that I must cast aside everything else for the sake of what I cannot even name. I have invited rejection, even anger, when I could have simply kept my mouth shut.

I am the one who spent a century building a boat on dry land. I am the one who, already an old man, left behind my whole world: city, family, friends to journey to another land and claim it, even though the only part I ever owned was a grave. I am the same old man, still childless in my withered years, daring still to believe that God would give me a child.

I am the one who gave up a life of comfort ease, wealth and position to lead a nation of stubborn slaves, who weren’t sure they wanted me as a leader anyway. I am the one who saw the army behind, and the waters in front, stretched my arm forth over the water and led a multitude of slaves across the bed of the sea whilst the waters towered up beside us.

I am the boy who went out with five little stones against a giant. I am the prostitute in the walled city who threw in her lot with a bunch of nomads worshipping a God she did not know.

I am the scarecrow. Laugh at my madness. I am the prophet who lay on his side; I am the prophet who wept for Jerusalem while she basked in peace. I am the young men who would rather be thrown in the fire than bow down to a glorious statue. I am the woman of shame who poured out her most precious possession at the feet of the young teacher while the rulers glared and mocked. I am the dreamer, the legion of dreamers, for whom this world, in all its finery, could never be good enough.

I am the joke of the universe, clinging to the hope that I will have the last laugh. I am the young, unmarried peasant woman accepting the burden and social stigma of a miraculous pregnancy. I am the unclean woman slinking through the crowd, until my outstretched fingers grazed the hem of a garment. I am everyone who dared to turn aside from the pursuit of power and pleasure to pledge allegiance to a king they could not see. The world no longer had a place for me, but I know there is a place prepared for me in a world that is unshakeable.

A scarecrow has few friends, except among its own kind. We stand in the biting rain whilst a proud world feasts before a blazing fire. And sometimes the cold rain mingles with my tears, for a scarecrow has a human heart, and that heart has drunk deep of pain. You may kill me, beat me, cast me aside, yet you cannot destroy me, for my name has been written in the stars. My king is faithful, and my life belongs to Him.

I am the scarecrow, a figure of mockery and scorn. My citizenship is in a place where I have never been. On earth I am a misfit, but there is another city where I shall not be left abandoned in the fields, but serve in the King’s own courts and wear His livery of love. My story will be retold there as a thing of wonder, because my story will be part of His story, and on that day no other stories will be told.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

With Trembling

I pause and fiddle with the knot in the rope. More than anything else, this piece of sturdy rope, strong enough to haul the weight of a man, brings home to me the awful solemnity of what lies ahead. The other priests who had assisted me step back, respectfully lowering their eyes to give me a moment’s privacy, and I realise that they have seen this reaction before, and probably expect it. It is a fearful thing to step into the presence of the Living God, and this rope is a reminder that I might not survive the experience. I remember the story of Uzzah, struck down for reaching out a well-intentioned hand to steady the Ark, and I shudder slightly, acknowledging the danger as real. Who am I that, of all the men of Israel, I should be called to come face to face with holiness? I know the answer: I am of the tribe of Levi, and can trace my direct descent, father to son, from Aaron himself. I am the high priest of Israel, ever since my father died, unexpectedly, a few months ago. Today, like every faithful high priest in our history, I must make my way past the curtain, into the holy of holies, and sprinkle the blood of sacrifice on the Ark itself, on the mercy seat. And if God should kill me, they will haul my body out by the rope.

And I ask myself: why?? Oh I know the easy answer, because God instituted it this way, that once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high Priest should enter the most holy place and sprinkle the blood of a slain bull before the Lord. It is the blood of sacrifice, that pays the death-price for our sin; it is also the renewal of the covenant between Israel and her God. I know that death is the punishment for sin, that all our sacrifices are giving an animal to take our place and pay the death-price for our human wrongdoing, but if every lamb and bull and goat n the whole great world were put to death, would our sin truly be covered and washed away in that unspeakable ocean of blood?

I have put on the special clothes, lovingly altered to fit me since I am a taller man than my father was, and in a few minutes more I will preside over the sacrifices (that part I am used to, it is my job), and the lots to choose the scapegoat, then I will take the basin with the blood of the slain bull, and pass through the curtain. I once asked my father what it was like to pass into that place and stand where no one otherwise would ever dare to stand. He was silent, as if he couldn’t find words, and trying to prompt him, I asked, “were you afraid?”

He looked at me then, as if from an infinitely far distance, and said, “No .. Yes .. no .. it’s not about whether you’re afraid. It’s not about you at all ..” I waited, wondering what he meant, and after a pause he continued, “You are Israel. You are all humanity, needing God and so far away from Him. And you are still yourself – broken and sinful, too small to carry the weight that has been placed on you ..” He shook his head, as if to clear it from a tangled torrent of thought. “I never told anyone this. Perhaps I shouldn’t speak it even now. But one day you will be high priest, perhaps you need to know. Perhaps one day you will understand this better than I do. Once, as a young priest I had a dream. I dreamt that I stood in the most holy place, and it seemed to me a most terrible thing that I should be there. For am I not also a sinner? But as I stood there, in dread and hesitation, with the bowl of blood so heavy in my hands that I nearly dropped it, I saw that another was standing there, and it was like His being was somehow joined with mine. His eyes were not cast down with shame, they were bright and clear with compassion and incredible joy. He took the basin from my sagging hands, and I noticed that His hands were wounded. And as He moved to sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat, it was as if the blood flowed from Him, and as it did all the furnishings dissolved away into light, and the great curtain behind me tore apart, forcefully, as if it was no longer strong enough to dam back the mighty tide of glory that was pouring in. And somewhere a great voice cried, “It is Finished!”, and then a chorus of voices from the ends of the earth took up the cry. .. Every time I enter the most holy place, I remember that dream, and I know that somehow, though we are the ones who kill the sacrifices and drive forth the scapegoat, somehow it is God Himself who makes atonement.”

I remember my Father’s words. It is time to begin. This day I will step past the curtain with trembling, for I am a man, and yet I will go with a strange joy, for somehow it is an invitation to walk forward into the heart of God.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Down to Egypt

Would I have said yes if I had known the price tag upfront? Possibly not. Knowledge of the future is a dangerous thing; perhaps that’s why the prophets so often speak in riddles. But, one step at a time, I have reached this place, and one step at a time we will continue.

My first reaction was total confusion. We all know how once our people were slaves in Egypt, how God Himself delivered us by His mighty hand and outstretched right arm, using Moses the Deliverer to lead us through the long travail of the wilderness to the land promised to Abraham. Then -- this is the story every child of Abraham’s line has been taught – because we did not keep the commands of our God, because we indulged ourselves with all the gods of the nations roundabout, we were sent forth into exile, to Babylon. And we came back. But things are not as they were before. The Romans choose our kings, and this king is a tormented soul who loves the favour of Rome far more than the burning glory of God.
And it is because of this king that we must do the unthinkable, and take this child, this child unlike any other child, the one who is to bring our people true freedom, out of the Land of the Promise and descend to Egypt, the land of bondage. Everything seems to be going backwards.

Sometimes I feel trapped in a nightmare where I will never see my home again. The world has changed, the rules have changed, utterly and irrevocably. But most of all, I have changed. I am no longer a girl, a child looking at the grown up world with wide-eyed eagerness, I am a woman, a wife and a mother in Israel. And I can never be that heedless, shiningly unaware girl again, however much there may be moments when I long to be free again, at home in the safe familiarity of my parents’ love and the ways and customs of Nazareth. There are moments when the strangeness, or the fear, hit me afresh, and for a split second I long to wake up again and find it was all a dream.

But not really. Because alongside the fear and the loss and the longing to go back and speak to my mother again, something else inside me is beginning to move with the wild dance of faith. The road is drear and long, the sun beats harshly on my eyes, but somewhere inside me those eyes are uplifted to the stars, and a breeze tanged by alien flowers is blowing through my hair. Since the day the angel came I have been learning to walk in two different worlds at once. Sometimes the double vision makes me dizzy, but often I find myself learning to breathe in a courage that is not my own.

And there is love. This little child, this miracle, is worth more than all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He looks up at me with those quiet eyes, and I know that I am blessed beyond all other women to be His mother. I would do this a thousand times over if this is what He needs, and still wonder, with tears of amazement in my eyes, why I was ever chosen. I reach out for Joseph’s hand, and in the midst of all this we smile at each other. Though this road may lead to Egypt, it is still the road of God.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Exiles

Never again will I dwell in the land that was promised to Abraham. My children, or perhaps my children’s children will return, for the prophets have declared that mercy is greater than judgement, but for me, and for my own, my family, my friends, the companions of my life, it is the end. We trudge forth as slaves under the hard cruel eyes of Babylon, and know that, wherever they take us, we will live out the rest of our days as strangers in a strange land. The songs of Zion will no longer be a joy and anticipation, but a memory of terrible yearning, that cuts through the soul until our tears are salt as blood.

It is hard to leave the hills of my childhood, and harder still to leave the graves of my parents, never to return; but harder, far harder still, to see Jerusalem destroyed. She was the jewel of Judah, the city of our God, and as long as she stood we knew that we were the people of His particular care, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We were the ones who came up Mount Zion with shouts of joy, singing the Psalms of David to join in the great festivals. And there, in our beloved city, stood the temple, Solomon’s glorious temple, the house of God on earth. It was said that when the temple was built, God Himself sent down His glory to live there, making this truly the Holiest place on earth. But the Glory has long since departed, for our people could not stay true to their God, even when He dwelt among them, and now the temple itself lies in ruins, and the terrible gods of Babylon exult.

We dare not put our torment into words, lest the speaking of it destroy us, but I glance at my companions of the dusty road and read the same hollow grief in their eyes as I know must be burning in my own. Has our God deserted us? Oh, we have the words of the prophets, words of punishment and restoration, words I am sure we will study deeply in the long dry years that lie ahead – but they are only words on scrolls. They fall away into silence before the things our eyes have seen, the city of our God, plundered, violated and left desolate! But beyond the screaming of my soul, I know there is a deeper truth: it was not God who deserted us, but we who deserted Him. What other people have treated their gods of wood and stone the way that we, in our infinite folly, have treated the Maker of Heaven and Earth?

It is strange that it is only now, in the time of our great loss, that we understand how precious it was and how much it meant. We weep, when our weary eyes can find the tears, because we were careless children who had been given the most wonderful thing on earth, and we didn’t even care. We put it down in the dust while some fleeting fancy caught our eye, we turned our backs on it, taking it for granted. Only now that it is gone do we mourn, not just the loss, but the stupidity of our losing.

It is strange, but somehow, in this act of leaving the Promised Land behind, we realise for the first time that we do not actually want to be like the other nations. Now that we are cast forth among them, we know that we want to be different. We will teach our children, and our children’s children, to value the very thing we threw away. Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how can I forget you? It would be a better thing for me if my right hand should lose its skill, than that I should forget the city of my God! We shall not forget where we belong, and one day our children’s children will return, will rebuild the temple, and the gates of the city will sing with praise.

And yet, it will not be like the days of Israel’s glory. We shall have our temple again, but the glory of God will not dwell in her midst. And if God should ever return to Jerusalem, what then? Will we receive Him with joy this time, or will we still prefer to go our own way?

Saturday, August 14, 2010


It had happened once before, of course. Then it had been my own fault – it had meant so much to me to be noticed, to have attention paid to me, that it had gone to my head and I had acted like a fool. It is humiliating to be a slave, and I was tired of being invisible, tired of waiting on that foolish old woman who still had this crazy dream that one day she would have a child. Anyone could see that she was long past any such hope. The truth was I was jealous – jealous of her wealth and position , everyone in our little world treated her like a princess --- and jealous of her beauty, which even in old age, still had the power to catch you by surprise. I was young and strong and less than half her age, but even my fresh prettiness could not really compete with her, and in a few short years, living and working as a slave, I would be just another withered, shrivelled, invisible woman, eking out my repetitious life on the edge of the desert.

But most of all I was jealous of the love between the Master and the Mistress. All those years, and all her failure to do the one thing that is every wife’s first duty, to give him a son, and still, even now, he would look at her with a kind of wonder in his eyes. No one had ever looked at me like that. My parents had willingly sold me into slavery, and since then I had been loved by no one. So when she sent me to the Master’s bed I completely misunderstood. I started daydreaming that I could replace her in his heart.

What a fool! What a green, love-sick fool of a girl I was! I behaved like a fool, my mistress responded with anger, and I ran away. At least I ran away along the right road, and came to a spring. There I sat in despair; a pregnant woman alone in the desert has neither hope nor future. And there it was that the angel came to me, the Holy messenger of Glory. He confirmed I was bearing a son, and told me to return and bear my child, who had a God-given destiny of his own. I was overwhelmed; the God of my Master had taken notice of me, a mere slave girl! The thirst of my heart for recognition was satisfied, and I knew He was the God who saw me, took notice of me and bid me live!
* * * * * *
This time it is my son’s fault. I suppose I should have taught him better, but what is a woman to do with a boy like that? And I think it may be my jealous heart that he inherited; he could not bear to see his father’s favour turned from him towards that puny infant. It was too much for him, and perhaps that is my fault too. I have not taught my son to have a generous spirit. But I also think that the mistress must share some blame; now she has produced the long awaited son she does not want any reminders around that her husband has another son, or that another woman once shared his bed.

So we were sent away with some food and a skin of water, to wander forth into the desert. What did they suppose would happen to us? I knew what I expected when the water ran out and the hot desert sun beat down on us. This was just a way for us to die, out of sight and out of mind. But again there was an angel. How many women have encountered angels twice in their life, and yet lived? This time I did not thirst for comfort for the torn vanity of my heart; I thirsted simply for water, and that my son might live. And again Abraham’s God heard the cry of my heart and answered. He revealed a well of water, there where no water should have been, and our thirst was slaked. And he has promised to be with my son, and make a nation from him, and my heart is satisfied and my trust restored. Now I have only one thirst left – a thirst for God Himself, that I might know the mighty one who is so compassionate that He would wipe away the tears of the lowliest of slaves.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Crossing Bridges

He challenged us so often – challenged our comfort, challenged our faith, challenged us to become something we’d never dreamed of. But most of all, I think, He challenged our notion of holiness. All my life I had been told that holiness meant separating yourself – from evil, from temptation, from things that might be someone else’s temptation. To be holy meant to resist every warm human desire as something dangerous – to be human was to fall under the curse of God. To be truly holy meant to spend your life walking away.

Apparently not. To Him, holiness always looked like walking towards. He was unafraid of sin. That in itself was a marvel, we had been taught all our lives to be terrified of sin. The only people who did not fear sin were those who were so wicked that they delighted in it. He did neither. It was as if sin had no power over Him . And the laws of the Pharisees? He despised them.

He would speak to women. Of course ordinary men speak to women, we have to, don’t we? But only in the right situations. Holy men, religious leaders, rabbis are generally people who will never so much as look at a woman except the members of their own families, and woe to any woman who is foolish enough to speak to them. I‘ll never forget that day, passing through Samaria, when He sat down to rest and sent us off to get food. When we came back He was chatting away to a Samaritan woman, and she was utterly enthralled. A woman. A Samaritan. We were not sure which surprised us most. If we hadn’t known by then that He always knew exactly what He was doing, we would have been seriously questioning His judgement. As it was, we were just thankful that there were no Pharisees around to see that particular incident.

But He wasn’t going to stay behind the Pharisees careful fences – not for anything. He’d speak to people He should have stayed away from if he’d wanted to make the “right” impression with the “right” people – even a Roman centurion! He even healed people on the Sabbath, and seemed quite convinced that showing compassion was more important than keeping a rigid interpretation of the Law. Often He made us feel uncomfortable. Not only was He constantly crossing bridges into realms that were uncharted, and probably unsafe – He was taking us with Him. What were we to think when He sent demons into a herd of pigs and the pigs promptly went and drowned themselves. We were rather embarrassed when the owner of the pigs appeared. It was rather an awkward moment for everyone except Jesus. He had us taking a little grain to eat when we walked through a cornfield, and wandering around in pairs to preach the Kingdom of God. What could be more ludicrous than turning guys like us into preachers and miracle workers? He touched the dead, He touched lepers – things that should have made Him unclean – but somehow it didn’t work like that. Instead they became whole, they became alive, he touched them and they became clean. It was all back to front.

I remember the night He let an immoral woman anoint Him. Any other religious leader would have felt befouled just by being in the same room; but He never drew away from her. Instead He told her that her sins were forgiven! It was as if -- I can’t think of a better way to say it – He saw people struggling on the wrong side, and, rather than leave them there, He crossed the bridge to where they were and carried them back across with Him. No bridge ever seemed to bother Him if there was someone on the other side who needed Him.

And there was one last bridge He crossed, and this still leaves me trembling with wonder. The greatest gulf that exists in this world is the gulf between life and death, but He crossed it, on that day I can still barely dare to remember, and then gleefully crossed back again, as if the conquest of death had become a small thing. He came back to tell us – no, to show us – that death is now merely a bridge from life to Life. And He will be there, waiting for us on the other side.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Gods of our Fathers

Sometimes it is hard to be married to a man with a big idea, especially when the name of his big idea is God. It has a way of disturbing the comfort of the whole household. Life had its moments while we still lived in Ur, because Abram didn’t worship in the temples or do some of the other things that all our friends and acquaintances did, but generally, because we were wealthy family of high rank, and because Abram was unfailing pleasant, polite and generous, it was regarded as an endearing eccentricity, and left at that.

It was different living in the same house. I had grown up believing in the deities of Ur, as any well-bred girl should, especially devoted to the moon god Nanna, whose principal temple was right in our city. I had been taught all my life that we humans existed in order to delight the gods – they needed our worship and sacrifices in order to be happy, and, conversely, they would be angry with anyone who failed to give them honour. Imagine how I felt on my wedding night when my glorious young husband told me that he wasn’t sure he believed in that! Had I married a blasphemer? Would we lie under the curse of the gods because of Abram’s unbelief?

The trouble was, I liked Abram’s God. We had always had a vague idea in our family that there was another God, vague and nameless, far beyond and above the civic deities, a sense that there was something more to the universe than what we had generally been told. But it was not a belief that had ever disrupted our lives in any way. How could it? An unknown God, with no temples or images or name or stated character – He was a rumour from a far country of the spirit, not part of our daily lives. But as the years passed, and Abram shared with me his vision of the one true God, I had to admit I found him far more attractive than the gods of our fathers. But one fear haunted me and held me back from complete surrender to his faith: I was barren. How could that not be the curse of the gods upon my husband’s unbelief? If this God of Abram’s was really all-powerful, wouldn’t he reward his one faithful servant with a son – with many sons?

Then one day, when life had settled down into comfortable patterns, and I had long-since put away my broken dreams of motherhood, Abram announced that his god had told him to leave Ur, to take all his household out into the desert, and follow the guidance of this unknown god to a land we did not know. Of course I cried, of course I screamed, of course I asked him, not once but many times, if he had gone completely mad – and all the while he just kept quietly insisting that we must all be obedient to God.

Of course, in the end I went with him. Truth be told, by that stage, I was rather looking forward to it. I knew I would not be in need or discomfort, and who would have expected to be starting on such a great adventure at our age? Besides, I loved this man, and through the years of our marriage the substance of ourselves had been woven together so deeply .. I needed to understand this God of his, and it seemed it would be easier far away from Ur, away from the temples and the processions and the whole social fabric that sang to me about the gods of our fathers. The desert roads are clear and bright, perhaps in those uncrowded lands it would be easier to only have one god?

And so we set out on a journey that was the beginning of something I had never imagined. The years flow together in my memory, the moments of shame and glory, the ordinary days and the strangeness and the wonder breaking through. And round about me the clear, almost unwavering faith of my husband. Oh yes, there were times when it wavered, he is a man still, even though he has walked with God, the times when ... But no, none of that matters now. All those mistakes are hidden under the mercy of the one I have learned to call my God as well. But only now, in these last weeks have the last of my fears and doubts disappeared. For only now, in my extreme old age, the god of my husband Abram has given me a son. And now I know, fully and completely, that the gods of our fathers have no power, they were, all along, just the tragic, broken myths of men.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

By The Hand

I am going to be crucified tomorrow. There will be no miracles this time, it is finished and I am going home, and all His promises will be fulfilled to me. I think I will ask to be crucified upside down – an unusual request, I know, but soldiers like novelty so I think they will grant my request. Who am I to have the privilege of dying as He died?

Tonight I will keep vigil with my memories, and all my memories that matter are of Him. Once there was pain in those memories – the pain of longing and the pain of shame – but now there is only peace, all my shame is washed away and I am cradled in His love. This time tomorrow, on the other side of death, I will be with him inseparably.

Now the memories jostle together, and I am content. Once it would have mattered to me to get them back into sequence, to try and arrange them with meaning and order, but why should that matter now? Soon there will be no more darkness or confusion, only love, and love will make all meanings plain. So I journey through them, smelling again the freshly caught fish, feeling the prickle of the sun on my back, and hearing the slap of the little waves. That was the day He came to us, and asked us to leave our nets and follow Him. “I will make you fishers of men,” He said. I had no idea what He meant, I only know that when He said them, it suddenly seemed the most important thing in the world. I knew that I would rather be about His business (whatever it was) than my own. I followed Him and those were my first steps towards Him.

The problem was, of course, that, while I wanted to walk with Him, I wanted to choose my own steps and my own pace. One minute I would be walking on the water (without stopping to think how impossible that is), the next minute I would be looking at the waves, and down I’d go. It is very hard for a man to keep pace with God, but His love kept stretching my legs. Sometimes I understood, like the day when so many departed from Him after He spoke about being the Bread of Life, and He turned to us and asked if we would leave too. “Where would we go?” I replied, always the one to jump in first when wiser men would stop and think, “You are the one who has the words of eternal life!” Other times I missed it completely, like the day I tried to dissuade Him from the cross. How little I understood!

I got so much wrong. Not just once (once would have been more understandable), but three times I denied Him to the onlookers at His trial. If He was walking towards a cross, I certainly didn’t want to go there! I ran away instead, and even now I wince at the memory. I saw the empty tomb, and I still didn’t understand what was happening. I was so slow to believe. And even after He had defeated death, I still imagined I knew more about fishing than He did.

All my life has been a walking lesson. I had always been so eager to choose my own path. Even that morning on the shore, so bright with His tender forgiveness that my eyes still mist when I try to see it, He told me that the day would come when I would stretch out my hands and be led where I do not want to go. And inwardly I recoiled, as if it were a smudge of dark cloud on the furthest horizon.

And now, when that time has come, it is like nothing I imagined. They have chained me and taken me to prison, tomorrow they will lead me to a cross, and the burly soldiers will march around me, for fear I should run away. How far do they think an old man could run? But none of it matters. They can lead me where they like. It is another hand I am holding fast to, and He is leading me in His own steps. And I am so glad – for the soldiers and the pain and the weariness of life will all fade from me in just a little while more, but He will still be holding me, and He will hold me fast for all eternity and never let me go.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Despised

My relationship with my brothers was always a bit awkward. I was so much younger, that they looked down on me anyway, but there were other differences too. It went back to the time when I was still a boy, the day when the old man came to our house and asked to see us all. Not that I was home when he got there, but since it was the talk of the family for weeks after, I heard every detail many times repeated.

He said that he came to make a sacrifice, that was odd in itself, but strange and mysterious are the ways of prophets, as strange as the ways of God Himself. He called my father to come and bring his sons to the sacrifice. Then followed a strange scene, even know I remember the unease of my brothers as they retold it. One by one they had to come before the prophet, one by one they were told that they were not the one the Lord had chosen. (Chosen for what? That was the unspoken question). That was when they sent for me, and that is the point where my own memory takes over. I walked in as summoned, fresh from the fields with no idea what was happening (but who did, apart from Samuel?), and was called to stand before this stranger. He looked at me, and I knew it was not my face he was seeing, but the hidden-most parts of my soul. And then, without a word of explanation, he took his horn of oil, anointed me, and when the sacrifice was complete, departed. My brothers had no idea what to make of it, so they joked about me to hide their discomfort.

Time passed. I was still the youngest brother, but there was an edge to their gibes that had not been there before. They had obviously decided that I was getting above myself and must be put back in my inferior position.

Then the Philistines attacked. My three oldest brothers went off to join the army, and I was kept busy going back and forth, filling in everything else that had to be done. Eventually I was sent up to the battle lines, to take food to my brothers. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Who did that that monstrous Philistine think he was, standing there insulting our people and our God? How dare he blaspheme the Holy One? And why was no one challenging him? Didn’t they know that they need not fear when their cause was God’s honour?

That was my mindset when my brothers found me; imagine my shock when they judged me with anger and scorn. They treated me like a naughty boy who had run away from his chores, they told me that I was conceited and had a wicked heart. In that moment I realised just how deeply they despised me: the younger brother who was different. And there was never a moment when it mattered less to me – my heart was on fire for a righteous cause.

The rest of that story is history: the sequence of events that led to the defeat of Goliath. It was victory pure and clean, I was fighting for God’s glory, not my own, and I didn’t care what anyone else thought, because I knew I was walking in obedience to the only one who mattered.

How different it is now: how bitterly, horribly different. Now, when I am their king, and they serve me gladly, now their words come back and hold up a mirror to my soul. Because now it is the truth, and I despise myself more than they ever despised me then. What was I thinking? How could I do such a thing ? Yet such indignation with myself is a falsehood in a sense. My sin, my dreadful sin against Bathsheba, against Uriah, above all against my God who forbade adultery and murder, is not some silly mistake I drifted into, it comes from the very core of who I am, conceited, self-indulgent, more concerned with gratifying the good pleasure of David than with surrendering to the good pleasure of God. What I did is the revelation of who I am, and how shall I live with that horror? Can even the sacrifices cleanse me? How can God still receive me? Can God Himself, altogether perfect, make peace with the despicable?

I can bring Him no more than my broken heart. Everything else I do is just an expression of what is inside. And yet I know that God receives me. How can that be? Unless .. unless .. somewhere beyond my understanding there is a place where a perfect sacrifice is made, a place where God Himself can meet with sinners, can even – is such a thing possible? – be the sacrifice Himself, despised and rejected, the scapegoat in the wilderness, that all His broken children might be the despised no longer, but, somehow, the ransomed of His love?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Father's Son

He came back yesterday. He had been gone so long that I had stopped thinking about him every hour – like a foot heals slowly from a sharp stone which was stuck in your shoe for too many painful miles. Of course, if he had been such a stone I would have cast him away at the first wincing moment of pain – but he is my father’s son, and I had never thought I could be rid of him. But he did leave, of his own accord, and the manner of his leaving was so insulting to our father and our family, that it was a while before I recovered enough from the shock and the shame to happily think, “Good riddance!”

He had asked for his share of the inheritance – while our father was still alive! That was tantamount to wishing our father dead, or at the very least saying that all he wanted was the riches, and not the relationship. What amazed me even more (since such brazen effrontery, such carelessness, was, after all, only to be expected) was my father’s reaction. My father would have been well within his rights to give an affronted refusal (who ever heard of asking such a thing?) or even to punish him (which would have been quite fitting, and long overdue) – at the very least he should have thrown him out and disinherited him. But no, the hopeless scapegrace makes his ridiculous demand, and our father gives him exactly what he asks for!! I never could understand it. And no sooner has he got his share than he converts it all to cash, and leaves...

I was glad that he went far away. Imagine if we’d had to put up with his disgraceful behaviour on our doorstep! It hasn’t surprised me to learn, now, that he spent all that he had, living a life of total self-indulgence, with no thought of being prudent, or working to make money for the future. He says he spent it on his friends, but that is ridiculous! Why would anyone do that when money is a man’s best friend in this world? And what value were these friends anyway, They were no use when he ran out of money – a very poor investment. He even lowered himself, in the end, to being a swineherd – consorting with unclean beasts!

And now he has come back, my father’s son. And what did my father do? Turn him away, demand repayment, or organise him to work off his debts as a bond slave? Not a bit of it! This fool, this wastrel, this idiot unfit to bear our family name, appears on the road bedraggled and dirty, and there is my father, most honourable of men, forgetting his dignity and position and running down the road to embrace him. I winced when I saw it. Everything is turned upside down. The fatted calf, we one we had been preparing for some special occasion, was killed in celebration, and next thing I know, the fool has been dressed in fine robes and given the family ring to wear. I wondered if running down the road in the heat had addled my father’s brain.

I couldn’t join the party, it was too much. And when my father himself came out to plead with me to join, it was too much. Out it poured, all the rage I was feeling, all my contempt for the idler and his filthy life. In the end I heard myself saying, “But you never did this for me, even after all I’ve done for you!” Even to my own ears that sounded lame and pathetic. But true. He hadn’t. My father looked at me, and before his sorrow I lowered my eyes in shame. “Everything I have is already yours,’ he said, and I knew that it was true. The only reason I had never seen his crazy, impossible love for myself, was because I had never asked for it. All these bitter, tight-wound years I had tried to earn my father’s approval, and all those years his heart had been bursting with love for me, not because I worked so hard, but because I was, I am, his son. What a waste – not of my work itself, I had worked well for him, but my closed, lonely, sullen heart!

Now I was crying too, and as I wept in my father’s embrace, our tears mingled together. “Come inside,’ he said, “and celebrate with us, for your brother, who was lost, has been found, my son is not dead, but alive!” I went in, stiffly and awkwardly, but I went.

My father’s son came home yesterday. This time I am going to learn to call him my brother, so that I, too, might truly be my father’s son.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Rose

It was a rose -- a dark red rose, and she had stolen it from someone else’s garden. She had no right to this perfect, beautiful thing; it was not hers to take. But there was no point in returning it. You can’t stick a plucked flower back on the bush again, it has been permanently severed from its source of life. And to go and walk up to a stranger’s door and confess she had taken their rose, when their bushes were covered in flowers, and one wouldn’t even be missed, seemed an absurdity.

There was no point fretting about it, there was enough real guilt in her life without getting upset about picking a flower. She would put it in a vase and enjoy its fragrant beauty for a few days – until it withered and died like all beautiful things wither and die – like everything she touched would wither and die. No, that was being absurd, the flower would wither and die just the same if she had left it on the rosebush. Loveliness never lasted, whether she had anything to do with it or not.

And every lovely thing in her life was broken. The man whom she had thought would cherish her forever had moved on, and blamed her depression for destroying their relationship. The depression had been triggered by the loss of the child she had been carrying. The miscarriage had been caused by being in a car accident. And the car accident was one hundred percent her own fault. If only she had looked one more time ..

Was there no beauty, no love that one could count on in life? Even this fast-withering rose, with its perfume that sang to her heart, had thorns it would not hesitate to use if she grew careless in the way she handled it. She knew the platitudes, she could recite them to herself: though the rose died, the rosebush would go on – and there would be other men, other children ..

It wasn’t enough. She didn’t want another child, she wanted that child, the one who had grown inside her for 4 months, before departing in a horror of pain and blood. She didn’t want another husband, she wanted the one she had pledged her heart to, even though he had proved unworthy of her trust and was now, already, deeply involved with someone else. And, she thought, including in her anger the God she had once taken so seriously as a child, resurrection, at this moment, seemed much less appealing than never having to die in the first place. Why did life always have to be about making do and putting a brave face on second best? Why couldn’t it ever be the best?

And yet, she herself was part of that brokenness. She wasn’t the only one hurt in that accident; the little girl in the other car would be months in hospital. What grief must her mother be going through? And that family had only recently lost another child. “Who am I to demand the best for myself when I am the cause of the worst happening to others?” she whispered. And it was worse. She knew why she had failed to pay attention at the intersection; she knew exactly what had been occupying her mind at the time, though there was no way that she was going to admit it to the police, or anybody else. She had been daydreaming a particularly sordid, nasty little revenge on someone who, in retrospect, had hardly injured her at all—and certainly not with intentional malice.

She turned the rose around and around in her fingers, considering. The thing that had so infuriated her back then? In hindsight it was as petty, as humiliatingly stupid, as if the owner of that rosebush had been plotting terrible vengeance on her for taking a flower whose loss wasn’t even visible. It didn’t make her stealing (yes, call it stealing) right, it didn’t make that careless unkindness that had so upset her right either; but her reaction had been out of all proportion. Be honest; her fury was goaded by hurt pride, not genuine injury or violation. And out of that moment of evil in her own heart (yes, call it evil, what she was imagining would have been a hideous crime in real life – and she was enjoying it!) came all the things that were hurting her now. She herself was an integral part of everything she raged against.

It was hard, and it didn’t make the immediate grief or loss any less – they were real things, costing real pain. But maybe in the very fact that God had lavished so much beauty on something as short-lived as a rose, was a promise in itself. Maybe, just maybe, on the far side of this darkness there could be room to learn to hope again? And maybe forgiveness was not just a pious fiction to enable people to put up with second best – maybe it was an absolute necessity which the whole world, and herself most of all, desperately needed before hope could have a chance? The fragrance of the rose was sweet and strong, but she barely noticed, for her tears were falling fast.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Imago Dei

Once upright, undistorted, mirror-clear
Where the first birdsong primal silence broke
Limning sweet limbs with love-lent loveliness;
Sky, and all glory bent to one small place
Till one enactment broke all time and space ..

Here now we crawl: broken, overwhelmed
Scrabbling amongst the dust
Scant, grimy, bent ..
Lost in the night, ourselves put out the lights
And drown in tears and call our tears a lie
And wake and ache and break, become the snake
Ourselves the hissing ugliness we fear ..

See the Restorer. Like a star come down
Into the orbit of this broken rock
Life, being bent on death, light down to dark
Folding into himself our flagging flesh
Being the message and the messenger
Being himself the song we could not sing
Being the glory couched invisible:
Drinker of sorrow down into the grave
Being the Mirror, Window, truth and Light
One arrow shot by God into the dark
To swallow up all darkness with His light,
To polish us till we once more reflect.

So we are come. Until His coming, come,
Let your light shine: His beauty born in you
As into holy wholeness you are wrought
Till you bear fruit as love has planted there,
Until He sees His face, full fair, in you.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Coin

Sometimes I longed to go back home, to tell my parents I was wrong and ask their forgiveness. But I knew there was no turning back, I had not only disgraced them, I had broken the law of my people and turned my back on God. For such as I there could be no forgiveness. I was moderately rich – enormously rich by the standards of my home village – but in their eyes it was unholy, ill-gotten wealth. I had married a beautiful woman, a foreigner, who laughed to scorn the few remnants of Judaism I still clung to, and then ran off with a Greek merchant who was ten times richer than I. I had laughed through my pain, scorning myself for a fool who should have known better, and remembering the old story of Samson and Delilah. I wasn’t the first man to be fooled by a pretty face, it simply joined me to a vast company of fools through the ages who had been so easily seduced.

I had friends, Greeks and Romans who did business here, and a few liberal Jews from Herod’s party as well, we traded, we partied, we gossiped at the baths, but though their company passed the empty hours, they were none of them men I trusted. If it served their interest to do so, they would stick a knife in my back without a moment’s hesitation – and not just metaphorically. I was sick at heart and weary of life, and had not yet reached my twenty-eighth birthday. At night I would dream of that little Galilean village that smelled of fish, and my weary parents who had loved me so much, and I would wake up in tears. At daybreak I would go back to my business and trade twice as ruthlessly as before, because I was angry with the world. But most of all I was angry with myself.

This was my frame of mind when I had to go to Galilee on business. I always carefully avoided the area where my family lived, but there were plenty of other places where I could go down to the waterfront and recapture some of the feelings of my boyhood. And that was where I was heading when I saw the crowd. I had left my fine horse at the inn, so, seized with curiosity, I made my way down and mingled with the crowd.

They were focused on a young man, not much older than myself, who was speaking. I did not understand what he was saying, something about a shepherd and his sheep, I had obviously arrived in the middle of the story, but his voice was compelling, so I stopped to listen. “suppose a woman had ten coins, and she loses one ..” As I listened to the story, I was suddenly reliving a day in my childhood. My mother had had such coins, I doubt if it were as many as ten, we were very poor, but she treasured those coins, if our father were taken ill, or there were no fish in the nets, they would be all that stood between us and starvation. And one day, just like in the Teacher’s story, she lost one. How we hunted for that one pathetic coin! (I thought guiltily of my saddlebags full of money). In the end we found it, outside, covered in mud and stinking filth. I would have thrown it away in disgust, but my mother would do no such thing. “Do you think it is worth any less because it is dirty?” she scolded me, and proceeded to clean it up. She was so glad to get her coin back, even in that state.

But what was the Teacher saying? “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents ..” I thought of myself as a man of many coins, but now I saw that I, myself, was that one coin, misplaced, and now caked with the filth of the world. But that didn’t mean I was unwanted. I could still be cleaned up.

I didn’t stay to hear any more. I knew what I had to do. First I must make my way to that little village and ask my parents to forgive me. Then, whatever their response was, I must return to Jerusalem and take my sin offering to the temple. God still wanted me! And as I turned to go, the teacher turned his head and looked straight at me. He smiled, and in that smile I felt the love of God welcoming me home ..

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A cup of cold water

I have so much to learn before I am ready to become the king God has called and anointed me to be. I have learned to trust my shepherd-God, and I have learned to lead men, not just sheep, and I have learned that if I am to be treated as worthy of kingship when my turn comes, even now I must honour the worth of the kingship of the present ruler, even though he is Saul, my bitterest enemy. But tonight I learned a new lesson, and my heart is overwhelmed.

It all began with nostalgia. I was tired of being cooped up in a cave in the wilderness, and let’s be honest here, I was bored. Sometimes even being scared is better than that, when I am in danger I know that God is with me, protecting me. He has promised me the kingship, he will hold me safe in the hollow of his hand until every last part of his promise is fulfilled. But where is he in the midst of unrelenting tedium? And the wilderness is so tedious. Nothing to do but keep hidden from Saul, talk to my men, and gaze out at the cruel sunlight by day, the bitter stars at night. I am so tired of it—the best years of my youth skulking in the desert. Then I remember the story of Joseph, and I acknowledge that the ways of God are strange, but the promises of God will never fail.

But today had been a bad day, not for any special reason, but just because I had run out of reasons for it to be good day. Even the water tasted flat and dusty – well, truth be told, it always does taste flat and dusty here, but usually I am too glad to slake my thirst to worry about such niceties. After all, I am a soldier as well as a shepherd and a singer (and who knows what else I may well become before the end of this perplexing journey? But it was a bad day, and nothing would make me happy, and at last even the taste of water irritated me past bearing. When a man is angry with the flavour of water, you know that his heart is truly sick with frustration.
I thought back to my childhood, only a short while ago in years, but the distance is immeasurable. I remembered the freedom of the fields around Bethlehem, the slant of the light on the hills, the very smell of the place. I remembered the sweet, cold water, and, longing to recapture that freedom and joy, I said aloud, “ Oh that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” And then, like a foolish child, I thought no more about it.

I was so self-absorbed I did not even notice them leave. Only later did I learn of their exploits, how the three of them – just three! – fought their way through the Philistine lines, reached the well, and brought me back a cup of cold water. It was madness, utter glorious madness, and when they returned, with the marks of battle on them, carrying that ridiculous water skin, I realised what they had done. I was so ashamed. They had risked their lives and laboured hard, just to satisfy my childish whim. What had I done? What had I become? Dear heaven, is that who they thought I was?

I could not drink it. They had laid their whole live on the line, and it seemed to me that it was no longer water, but their blood. I know there are kings in other lands who feed off their people, but may I never be such a one! My God is not like that, and I will not be either.And in that moment I saw what I had never before understood. The Law says that when we bring our sacrifice to the temple, we offer it to God and then feast on part of it ourselves. God does not feed on us, he feeds us. He himself in some sense is our living bread, he himself takes the foul and tainted water of our lives and turns it into the wine of the bridegroom. Our bread. Our wine. Our life. For if God takes a little from us, it is only in order that he may give to us all the more. And we must feed on him, or else we die.

I looked at the water skin. That water was a holy thing, it had been bought for me at a price I could neither deserve or repay. It is not for such as I to drink of holy things. Reverently, prayerfully, I poured it on the ground. Never, never must I ask for the heart’s blood of my people. Even in the dark, my men knew that I was weeping.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

In Magdala

It lay there forgotten, and she never even missed it. She had never even known it had a name. For her, it didn’t. But she knew that she felt better – the pain was further away, far enough away now, in fact, that it could easily be got rid of altogether, at least for a while! Over time, with some experimentation, she got better at doing that.

Life was much more fun now. Maybe she didn’t feel joy quite as sharply, but she certainly didn’t feel all the hurt, and she didn’t have everything she wanted to do being constantly interrupted by those voices in her memory screaming “Shouldn’t!” all the time. She could sleep in without guilt. She could stay up late, go to parties, have too much to drink – all without more than a moment of guilt – which she could explain to herself as “Old habits die hard”. An easier life was a better life – right?

And then there were men. One could get so much from them if one simply didn’t care – about anything. Working on her own image to keep her market value intact was probably the thing she put the most effort into. It was an investment with rich rewards – as long as you didn’t care.

It was not-caring which was the key to everything else, and not-caring was a lot easier without that other bit that had caused her so much trouble in the past. Of course, that left an empty space, but a girl learns ways to fill the empty spaces. And she was smart enough to provide for the future, too. Getting ahead was important: making money, having a glamorous lifestyle, being a good-time girl who got noticed. Things got a little wilder as the years passed, but she stayed in control.

She was somewhere between thirty and forty when she realised she had lost control. She wasn’t sure exactly how old she was – she had lied about her age so many times that she no longer remembered the truth. Something was wrong, something was horribly wrong, but she had no idea what to do. All the things she had invited in to fill the empty spaces had not only filled them, but were taking over the rest of her as well. She was a puppet, just a soulless puppet, and something else was pulling the strings. Even though she had given up caring, some corner of her mind was screaming in terror.

She could never afterwards quite recall the sequence of events. It was as if her mind was no longer quite her own. Nothing was clear until the strange day when she found herself face to face with Him. It was as if the whole universe was holding its breath when He looked into her eyes, and straight through them and down into the deep places where she was too frightened to look for herself. And she knew that He was offering her a choice, and there was only one possibleanswer, even if she didn’t really understand what it meant There was no way she could speak, but she said “YES!”with her eyes, even while those other voices were roaring NO in her head. It was enough. He spoke again, and it was like her innermost self was being wrenched wide open .. something was leaving that didn’t want to leave .. and she wanted it to go, even if it had come to feel like part of herself .. she had no idea where she was, or who she was ..

The sun was shining, but the grass still carried the perfume of yesterday’s rain. A light breeze caressed her face. The world was utterly still, and utterly beautiful. She could feel the breath move in her lungs, and the solidity of the earth beneath her feet. All was well .. only one thing was missing, one small, but somehow very important thing.

His fingers lifted her chin and He was looking into her, but now it didn’t hurt at all. “Mary,” he said, making her name sound like a smile. He breathed on her, and she felt His word, and His breath meet somewhere deep inside her, recreating. She was whole, she was well, all things had been restored, and she knew with utter joy that the new life which she had been given belonged to Him forever.