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?