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.