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.