Saturday, December 29, 2012


At the beginning of all things, they came into being, and they sang for joy as creation unfolded, for behold, it was very good! They watched as the foundations of the earth were put in place, as wisdom shaped the heights of the heavens and the depths of the seas, and called forth life. They watched as the man came into being, and then the woman; they watched and they learned that the only thing that was not good was to be alone. But they saw the beauty of the Creator reflected in Creation, and they were glad.

They saw the years pass, and the deeds of darkness that could not bear the light of day. They saw the hunting of the wolf and the owl, and the vicious hunting of man by man. They saw, and they shuddered. Then came the time when they saw nothing – for forty days and forty nights the world was covered by dark clouds. When the clouds parted again they saw their own reflection in the mirror of the vast waters, until the waters receded and the land reappeared.

Time passed. They saw a man called out by God to count them in the desert sky. He was overwhelmed by their magnitude, and even more overwhelmed to be told that he, childless as he was, would be father to a host more numerous than they. And, as generations passed, they watched those children, too many to count, following a pillar of fire by night. They watched the wars and the travails that followed. They watched a king pace his roof with restless lust in his heart, they watched the rise and fall of nations, and sometimes they hid their faces from the horror.

Then one of them was given a momentous task: to travel across the sky from east to west and guide some stargazing mystics to a rough shelter in a little town in the Land of Promise. And, even while that journey was in progress, they witnessed a great marvel, for near that same little place, in the dead stillness of the night, the very angels of God became visible, with a light so bright that the stars felt faint and pale beside it. And the joy of the angels’ song was like the joy sung at creation itself, as if, even in the midst of trouble, misery, pain and entropy, something was being renewed and reborn. And hope coruscated through the universe.

They watched, and in time they knew, for rumour proved to be truth, and the world was being changed forever, as Truth Himself walked through its dust. They shone over a betrayal, and the next night over an empty cross. Then, when the world waited in silence, and no human eyes beheld, they saw the emptying of the tomb, and felt the thrill of wonder.

And they continue to watch, and, in their own distant way, to encourage and inspire. They shine bravely knowing that a new creation is coming – glorious pure and perfect – when every tear shall be wiped away and all things shall be healed. Sun and moon shall be no more, for the Lamb Himself shall be Light, but the Redeemed who pour into that city, the Overcomers, shall be given the morning star. And all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

There will be Horses

Sometimes I close my eyes and see The Kingdom
Salt-whipped sand, bright, and a strong wind blowing
Wild waves that know their boundary,
Strange air
Perfumed with cleanness, warm and sharp and clear,
Salt on my lips, yet sweet as tropic fruit.

Laughing, yes laughing,
For the gladness of glory. I am become a child
Twirling like madness into that new wind.

Then come the horses,
Riderless and inviting, born to run,
For the living joy of the wind, and the sea’s sweet singing,
I run with them, I run and am not weary,
‘Hallelujah!’ scream the eagles
And the gulls shiver with joy,
And I run with the horses.

There are meadows
Where grass bows to the wind
Where glory burns
And we run through the scent of flowers,
Running towards the Beauty that is borne
Down to us.
Face-upward, how we run!

And the chains of the years melt away,
And the sin and the sorrow
Fall from our limbs like a shadow, passing, passing.
And I know not if I run or if I fly
Home to my Home, Who meets me in the splendour,
Welcoming me, and I come,
Yes I come with the horses!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

In Anticipation

He was surprised when the strangers came, looking for a king. Any ruler encountered odd people and odd requests, especially foreign emissaries whose expectations were often very different to those of his own people. Then one must weigh up carefully before responding. What would it cost? Who would be gratified? Who would be offended? Whatwould he, Herod, gain from all of this? Power was rather like a giant board game, where one knew most of the moves, and became very adept, over time, at blocking and defending, only appearing to yield when it put one’s opponent in a more vulnerable position. But, just occasionally, a player would come along who played the game so differently that he had no idea what strategy to use, or whether he was winning or losing.

This was one of those times. First he had heard the rumours (his informers were very good), then, deeply disturbed, he had asked to see the men himself. He had expected to meet crazies from the desert, with this mad talk of a new Jewish king being born. Everyone knew that the sun out there could addle a man’s brains. Crazies were easy to deal with. But when he met them he had to give up all these assumptions. These were men from the exotic east, far beyond the sway of Rome;
they were wealthy men, and learned, wise in the ways of the stars, a wisdom he knew nothing of. His eyes had always been fixed on the darkness deep in the human heart, a darkness so powerful that it could swallow up even his best beloved, and turn them into enemies who were plotting against his throne and had to be killed.

So now he was confounded. These were men who had to be taken seriously, and they had unwittingly exposed a terrible threat to his throne. But where, and who, was this child? Surely the priests would know? The priests murmured and muttered among themselves (was there anything these men would not argue about?) Then they came back and told him that it was prophesied that this child would be born in Bethlehem, just a few miles down the road.

Once this would have given him pause: sweating ice at the mere thought of trying to fight against  a prophesied act of God Himself, but that time was long past. Now the only icy sweat was at the thought of losing any of his power. The fact that he would most likely be dead and gone before a newborn child could ascend to power never even occurred to him. So, in anticipation of a problem solved, he laid his plot.

It would all be so simple. The eastern scholars would go and find this usurping child in Bethlehem, come back and tell him all, ostensibly so that he too, could go and worship. As if! Rather, he would quietly send a detachment of soldiers and the troublesome child would never be heard of again. And maybe these foreigners should quietly vanish as well? In anticipation, he sent them on their way.

But of course, it never happened. For God, who had anticipated this child for time beyond Herod’s power to reckon, sent the wise men home by another way, and when Herod, enraged, sent his forces against every little boy in the town, somewhere far to the south, on the road to Egypt, the King of kings and Lord of Lords snuggled against his mother’s shoulder in anticipation of an ultimate victory against principalities and powers compared to whom Herod, styled the Great, was as nothing.

And this king shall reign forever and ever.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Servant

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

She had said it, and she had meant it, and she meant it still.  She would not falter from that commitment, that obedience to God’s miraculous choosing, but now she was learning that the saying was much easier than the living. It was not true, of course, that every Jewish girl dreamed of being the mother of the Messiah, some of the girls she knew would not have given it a moment’s thought, there were far too many other things that interested them, but she certainly had, and wasn’t the first to do so either. But it had been a little girl’s dream, full of gentle-toned holiness, soft voices, and the admiration of everyone she knew. The reality was far different, and she would never be that little girl again.

Who knew how the Messiah would be conceived? She supposed that the rabbis and wise men might well have discussed such things, but, if they had, it had never occurred to them to share their thoughts with young women who were, after all, the most likely people to need to know. It had certainly never occurred to her that He would be born outside of the ordinary ways of marriage, in a scenario that invited gossip and condemnation. It cost to be the Lord’s servant.

Nor, in that strange, marvellous conversation with the angel, had she thought of how difficult the conversation with Joseph was going to be. If she had thought about it at all, it was with a vague notion that God would have already explained it all to him. After all, wasn’t she under God’s protection? Only now was she beginning to understand what God’s protection actually looked like: glorious and marvellous, but also rather terrifying to normal flesh and blood. Because, of course, God had sorted it out, but only after she had faced the loneliness and shame of Joseph’s disbelief. But then, she reflected, wasn’t that the way it had always been? The priests had to step into the water before the Jordan receded; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had to endure the terror of being cast into the unbearable fire before they met the One who walked with them in the flames; Abraham had to lift the knife against his son before the ram was given to be offered in Isaac’s place. It was always the same: the Lord called His servants to walk into wonder and great joy, but also into trouble and fear and great labour, for how else shall flesh and blood keep company with the Holy One, the Maker of heaven and earth?

And now, having endured the common ardours of pregnancy and the sideways glances of the women of Nazareth as they watched her growing larger, she must set out on an uncomfortable journey just when she was nearing her time. Her mother said she was mad to do such a thing (and Joseph was mad to allow it), but she knew that this journey was absolutely right. For where else should David’s greater descendant be born but in David’s own town? The one who set the stars in place had set these events in place as well, and she could rest against the reality that this was of God and He would utterly provide.

She was the servant of the Lord, a small but necessary participant in the miracle, and it would be to her in accordance with His perfect love.

Short poem for slain children

The horror happens: 
The massacre of children
And a stunned world’s frozen tears
Fall to the ground.

The ground remembers
The blood of Abel,
The merciless wars
The bones of the starved and forgotten
The ground remembers
And weeps with us.

Scream against the wind!
The unconscionable has happened
How long oh Lord?

And the mothers of Bethlehem share our tears
As we wait for the One Child
Who will undo the night
When death shall be no more.

How long oh Lord?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Promise

All his life he had been waiting, and sometimes it seemed like the hardest job in the world. He had seen the impatience with which men usually waited: for a betrothed to reach marriageable age, for a baby to be born, for a feast day, for a business transaction to be completed so that they had the money or the goods were in their hands; he had seen and he had marvelled. What did they know of waiting who only had to endure for such a short and measurable season? For him the years grew long, and the weariness immeasurable, but the sweetness of the Promise still held him fast. No other thing could ever be so precious.

It had begun in his youth. He had come to Jerusalem to study the scriptures, and had stayed there ever since, to be near the Temple, where the presence of God was enacted every day, and to wait for the Chosen One while he studied the Holy Writings to learn more. The more he read, the more he understood, the more he knew how desperately Israel needed her Messiah. From the day that the first man and the first woman had eaten of the fruit and been driven from the garden, the promise of restoration had been there. And down through history it had grown more specific: the Servant, the Branch from the stump of Jesse, the Messenger who would suddenly appear in the temple. The Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham, of Judah, of David, as down through the years the Promise became more specific, and his house would be established forever. And as his understanding grew, Simeon had cried out to God for the Consolation of Israel to come.

And his prayer had been heard. It had not been a blinding flash of revelation, but slowly, surely, the Lord had shown him, as the Holy Spirit spoke to his spirit, an amazing promise: that he himself would not die until he had seen the Messiah come. And so he waited; summer and winter, day and night, through the fat years and the lean, as the world seemed to him to grow more dreary and more desperate, he waited for the Chosen One to come. And as he waited, he grew in wisdom, for he saw, more and more clearly, that Israel needed military success far less than she needed to be renewed and transformed. The ‘Consolation of Israel’ was her only hope of salvation.

And finally, when age had so bent him that every bone in his body was crying for release, the day came. Moved by the Spirit, he went to the temple courts, and there he waited, watching the line of pilgrims come to make their sacrifices. And there they were, just another poor couple with their baby boy, and their offering of a pair of pigeons. And yet, when he saw them, the Spirit spoke to him, and a fierce joy and a gentle wonder flooded through him. This was the one! This child, this baby settled quiet against his mother’s shoulder, was not just Israel’s hope, but the Salvation of the world.

Afterwards he never remembered what he said to the young mother, but she willingly passed the child to him, and as he held the most precious thing in the universe, with steady hands and streaming eyes, he whispered his prayer of thanks:

“Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your promise. For my eyes have seen your salvation ...”

It was enough, he was at rest. And if the Lord so faithfully kept His promise to one man, how much more His promise to all mankind?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Ordinary Time

Oh let the whirling planets twirl,
And numbers dance in forms sublime:
For I have seen the hand of God
Outstretched in ordinary time.

The beat of rain on bended weed,
The rapid flash of beating wing,
The sunlight angled on a leaf:
Who needs to hear the planets sing?

The warmth within a stranger’s smile,
The sound of water, scent of sea,
The love that holds through daily things –
These are, for me, epiphany.

The angels bend their eyes to watch
The sacrament of cookery.
The artistry of everyday,
The small things in humility.

Oh God of galaxies and stars,
Like a weaned child, may I find rest,
Not in the things too high for me,
But here and now, against your breast.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

At The Threshold

The angels poise themselves in expectation. They watch. They wait. They have been watching and waiting for years beyond human knowledge, but now is the fullness of time. It will happen tonight, and everything will be changed forever, because God himself has done the unthinkable. The very atmosphere of earth is pregnant with the Holy Spirit’s power and purpose, and they marvel that human beings can be so unaware of cosmic realities. But some will be players in tonight’s drama, and even now they are taking their places ..

The woman knows, though it will be many years before she understands all the implications. She is tired: the travelling has been rough, and the pains started several hours ago. She leans on the strength of the man, letting him organise things for her, for the hour of her need approaches. It has been a strange nine months, living in two realities at once: the ordinary pregnancy, the extraordinary conception. But now her exhausted mind is stilled upon two realities – the demanding rhythms of her own body, and the still, deep certainty that she and her future are held and carried in the love of God. She does not yet know that because of this night to come, and because of that daring ‘yes’ she said nine months earlier, her obscure, ordinary name will be known and honoured as long as the earth endures.

The man is as anxious as any first time father. Far away from the female relatives who would normally care for her at such a time, he feels an added responsibility to care for her safety, and that of the child. And he knows so little about things. But as he fusses around, trying to make sure that everything possible is provided for her, he is overtaken by a deep sense of peace. This birth has been planned for aeons; he can leave the outcome in the Lord’s hands.

The town is falling asleep, though restively. There are too many people crowded here at the moment; no one is quite at ease. But the laborious day brings its own reward of rest, and, one by one, the lamps are going out.

Out on the hills, it is just another night of sheep-watching. Or is it? The sheep are not settling down in their normal way, like Balaam’s donkey centuries before, they can sense the angelic presence which men are blind to. So the men, tuned into their beasts, if not to spiritual realities, are alert. There is a sense of waiting.

And somewhere, far to the east, a mighty star is shining, directing a bunch of weary travellers on their way. It is hard to travel by night and to try to sleep by day, but when the guiding star is only visible in the darkness, they have no other choice. The miles grow burdensome, but when they look up to the star they are reassured. Somewhere, many days ahead of them, a mighty wonder is waiting, a wonder that is worth all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them.

Night settles more deeply over the little town. Somewhere, a few miles to the north, an unhappy king starts from his sleep with a nightmare sense of foreboding. Why should he feel so threatened in the stillness of the night? The cold, midnight darkness is strangely silent, as if all the non-human creation is holding its breath ..

Then, somewhere in little Bethlehem, the thin cry of a newborn pierces the night, and creation exhales. The angels can restrain themselves no longer, they see the amazing miracle, and marvel. High above the surrounding fields they soar and sing, “Glory to God in the Highest!”

Saturday, November 24, 2012


I am not sure that I can explain what took me there that night. Fear and shame had been wrestling inside me against burning curiosity, and after days of internal conflict, I simply wanted peace. But it was something else that compelled my feet through the dark streets of Jerusalem that night. As a boy I had watched a fisherman draw in a fish: it didn’t matter which way it thought it was swimming, when the fisherman pulled it would come in regardless. So it was: I was drawn and I came.

And I have never felt more confused in my life! No sooner had we exchanged courtesies (extremely courteous on my part, one does not wish to risk offending a prophet of God), than He launched straight into the most extraordinary statement I had ever heard from rabbinical lips: “No one caqn see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again!”

Unless he is … what? This was no longer the comfortable conversation I had rehearsed in my head. I floundered, what could he possibly mean?  I had imagined us talking elegantly, one learned man to another, while I gently probed to get his measure, but now it felt as if he were doing the probing, and had found a hollow place right in the centre of my being. I knew all the classic arguments, the midrash of the sages, but  …. I shook my head. It was as if we had sat down to play a game together, an old familiar game, and suddenly my opponent was moving his pieces in ways I had not even imagined they could be moved.  I had no response to give.

“Do you mean that a man, an adult, has to back inside his mother’s womb?” Even putting it into words was ridiculous, but, turn it every which way, it still made no sense. I hadn’t felt so stupid since I was a child.

He started to explain to me about being born of the Spirit, the mysterious Spirit that blows where it will. He seemed to be saying that the Kingdom of God was something different from the Israel that I was part of by virtue of my ancestry, or at least that one only became part of it by a way I could not comprehend.

He teased me gently, and in His smiling voice I heard an invitation  to let go of all my assumptions about my own importance: “You mean that you are a teacher in Israel and you don’t know about this?”

True. He had me there, so I listened as he continued to explain. And as he spoke I began to see, but dimly, as a man sees shapes through a fog, enough to stay on his path, but not enough to see where the path is leading him. I realized that what he said was true, we cannot speak or teach beyond our own experience, and yet we are so quickly dismissive of the testimony of those who know more of God than we do. That is our shame, and our blindness.

And then he spoke of the ways of God, and of a love that could not be confined to Israel, but would reach out to embrace the world (though I could not understand when he spoke of how this was to be done). And I began to grasp the notion that it was not only those who were born of Abraham’s lineage who were his children, but that there were many who would come in, from the east and the west, who would be drawn in. And perhaps (though this was much harder to accept), we Israelites were not truly Abraham’s children either until we became so  by … this other way ..

There was so much I hadn’t begun to realize, that I couldn’t until that dreadful day when I saw what he meant about being lifted up, but my journey had begun, and for many sleepless nights I wrestled with his words, placing them in counterpoint to the Torah until my thoughts began to take new shapes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012



We will remember you

In the places in between;
Marshland and shoreline, dusk and early dawning,
The interstitial littoral
Where the lost linger.

Princess and victim, torn and betrayed.

You are all our tears:
The dreams that shatter on the rocks of cold indifference
The silence where our voices should have been:
Dreadful and pathetic,
The spirit’s anorexia,
The body pales away.

Brother and father betrayed you,
For they cannot hear our cry.
Our woman-song is discord
To the rhythm of their march,
And our screaming fades away.

Who will heal the broken?


Daughters of Jerusalem, watch from your towers!
No beauty that we should desire him –
Broken, broken ..
Let the stones rise up and cry!

He sheds our tears,
He carries our silence
While the prancing princes wave their tawdry swords ..

There is no health in us.

Pity now, take pity oh my people!
But there is no pity here:
Stone hearts within stone walls
As there always were,
Let the weak go to the wall!

And, outside the wall,
The drumbeats of our hearts are shocked and still.


Who will remember?
The laughing girl, the daughter of the king,
Rich to life’s promise,
Her beauty his desire.
And the promises are broken,
The promises unspoken,
And the house becomes unholy,
And the women drink despair.

Howl to the uncaring moon!

The garments of her glory
Torn as her soul was torn:
The gaping wound
In the horror of her body.

And the king did nothing.


Another day, another king
Embraces his scaffold as a bridegroom takes a bride,
Pinned to her by love.
The torn flesh cries out
And the Father is not there:
God walks the desolation.
Only the women watch,
Loving their champion.

 Oh my people, what have I done unto you?

The darkness covers him
The dreadful darkness,
The darkness where the darkest deeds are done,
Where the victims huddle
In their silent pain.
He stands with them on feet too pierced to stand.


The broken body testifies
That there are no easy answers.
And the stars swing in their courses,
But darkness still covers the deeps.
And the tears of the forgotten
Are remembered by their God.

He comes as the deer comes, springing on the mountains:
Shall the mountains fall and crush us?

Come out from among the tombs,
From the scarce-lit places,
From the caves of man’s forgetting.
Let him tell your wounds in the light.
Let his knowing balm your shame.
Let him shout aloud his love!

Under blood, and under water
Washed clean from everything.

And the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”
And the broken and the torn say, “Come!”
And the very saints cry out:
“How long, Oh Lord?”

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Prisoner

He  languishes in his cell. He has a history, he has a name, yet neither of them seem to matter anymore. He did what he did because it was the only thing he knew how to do, and he is not sure that even now, knowing the consequences, he would be able to do any differently. A man must stand up for himself, or else be sucked down and eaten up. There are no reprieves, no second chances, and, sooner or later, every man’s time is up. He can feel the fear in his stomach, corrosive as acid, but he will hold his bravado to the last (he hopes).

He has never been a thinker, he always prided himself on being a man of action, who didn’t give those paralyzing second thoughts any headspace, but now, in his little, miserable cell, there is nothing to do except think. A man can only rage for so long before his body is too exhausted to keep fighting. So he lets his mind wander across his memories: the swift gladness of success, the contentment of comradeship with other outcast men, the heady knowledge that he was a hero to some and a reviled name to others: the timid law-abiders, the soft cowards he despised. He saw himself as a man who fought for Israel’s freedom; the fact that he also fought for the booty and the spoil, and the hot pleasure of violence – surely that was secondary?

He had not known his own name, growing up as he did on the tattered outskirts of society, so, with rough irony they gave him a name: Barabbas, son of the father. It was a good name to play with and fight with. He tasted its nuances as he sat and waited, wondering how much time he had left.

But something was different this morning. Even here, under the heavy layers of stone, he could hear the noises of a crowd, an angry crowd, shouting out over and over again. He tried to make out the muffled and distorted syllables. “Crucify him!” they seemed to be saying. He shuddered; when it is your own flesh facing the nails and the long, slow agony, such bloodthirstiness seems a lot less appealing. And then he heard a word he could not mistake, they were crying out his own name. What? Why should the Jerusalem mob be crying out for his death? It made no sense, but he felt the bile in his throat and cringed into the corner of his cell.

There was a heavy tramp of footsteps which could only mean a full contingent of Roman guards. Was this the hour of his death? Wordlessly, they opened the door, beckoned to him and led him up the stairs and corridors to daylight. And then they released him!

What was happening? A few sentences from bystanders explained the situation: that man up there on the platform, Jesus of Nazareth,  still and tranquil despite the ropes around him, was going to be crucified in his place. The choice had been made, he would live and Jesus would die. He gazed, and he wondered. To his own surprise, the hard, tough man found himself crying.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

If Shakespeare were a Sat Nav ..

Go therefore ye, and take the subtler way
The bend sinister where the paths collide
Do not engage ye with the vaunting banks
But haste ye on towards the rising day.
Then, in a little while, too soon, too soon,
Before the town’s drab outskirts come in view
Curve to the rightwards through the woodland way
The road less trodden, underneath the boughs.
Curve softly there, and bend ye ever south,
Though every winding would ye take astray
Stop not for goblin’s curse or witches’ ring.
Up to the hill, the highest in this place
(Though naught is seen beneath a lowering sky)
Prickle ye out the downward sloping track
Nor backwards glance, but leave such things arrear,
And spend ye merrily the careful path
That winds without the rocky tumbled crags
Bethink ye not to turn to left or right
Until the mighty highways come in sight.
Gambol ye sunwise then (not widdershins)
Around the mighty circle. Count the ways
And take ye then the road ye number three,
Then turn ye leftwards, very suddenly.
A mile, a mile, and yet a mile again,
And still more miles, till weary heart grows lean;
Then looms a river. Cross ye not the bridge,
But take the underway, nor think to pay,
The ferryman (for that were coin in vain)
And roundabout the twisting streets go on
And sharply east – and ye have reached your home!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Man in the Pit

A pit is not a good place to be. It is dank, it is dark, and no one ever cleans it. The smell of the beasts was almost overpowering, and the man knew, that, though he had entered it willingly and calmly, eyes wide open and head held high,  his mind composed and his faith at rest, that his body responded to the sensory horror with visceral fear, and the lions could smell the sweat of his ordeal.

There was comfort in remembering how others before him had endured in such a desperate place. The patriarch Joseph had been thrown into a pit (by his own brothers, no less!), sold into slavery, and, because God was with him, later risen to become the second-in-command in mighty Egypt, and saved many lives. Or Jeremiah, who was cast into a pit for speaking faithfully what God had commanded him to say. And then there was Jonah. Wasn’t the insides of the belly of a great fish the worst kind of pit? And, though Jonah’s own folly had brought him to that place, it was the Lord who put him in the pit, and took him out again.

But this was now, not then, and who could predict God’s ways? That a man could pray, faithfully, to the God of his fathers, the Maker of heaven and earth, all the days of his life, and find comfort and sustenance in worship, even though he was far away from Jerusalem and the Temple, and then, when his years were many and his body less, be hauled off to die for the simple act of prayer? But a man does not change his loyalty, his allegiance, when the price tags are changed; if this was the cost of fidelity, so be it, God was still God.

It was the jealousy and malice of men which had put him here, their determination to get rid of a faithful servant whose integrity showed them up; and the king, caught between their cunning and his own weakness, was forced to send his most treasured servant to the pit of the lions. And the lions were hungry.

But they made no move towards him. After a few minutes of silent tension, he turned to face them, and, as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he realised that there was another figure standing between the lions and himself, and it was not a mortal man. It was an angel of the most high God, sent for his succour and protection in his hour of need. He was no longer concerned about the lions, but awed into silence by this holy presence. All night long the angel kept guard, all night long the lions remained peacefully in their corner, and the man, with a prayer of thanksgiving lay down to sleep: “For it is You Lord, You, lord, only, who makes me to dwell in safety.”

In the morning the king came, overwhelmed with concern, to find out if his servant had survived. Marvelling, he had him lifted out and checked out to see how his body had borne its terrible incarceration, but he bore no wounds whatsoever. His very body had become a testimony to his God. Yet when his accusers were thrown into the pit in their turn, the lions did not hesitate to destroy them. This was a God to be reverenced and worshipped.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Beauty for ashes

There is a place you find yourself in when it has all been too much, when the worst has happened and yet you are still breathing. The ritual wailing of the mourners had already started, but inside her head there was an empty silence, reverberating only with hopelessness. There was no life left in her except the basic, inexorable functions of a body she no longer fully inhabited. She did not even feel the tears that trickled helplessly down her face, but the mourners did, and it worried them far more than a dramatic exhibition of grief.

She knew, though she feared the sin of saying it, that she did not want to live in a world that did not contain her daughter. All during the girl’s short illness she had bargained and pleaded with God to spare the child, but the girl was dead. She might as well have been asking favours of the rocks and stones.

She had even sent her husband off to seek the Healer, who was supposed to be in the town, but it was too late. The girl was dead – and those words, however they were weighed and turned, bore down on her with their crushing weight. Her only child, her love and her joy, was gone from the world, and all the lights had been turned out. She wondered, heavily and drearily, in the wasteland beyond passion, if God really cared for mothers, or daughters at all. Perhaps He only answered prayers for sons?

There was a commotion at the door: her husband was back with the Healer. Why were they bothering? It was too late -- everything was too late. Even the unvoiced thoughts tasted like ash in the back of her throat. She heard the Healer rebuking the mourners, crazily saying that the child was still asleep. Did He think they were naive children, who could not tell the difference between sleep and death? The sudden silence made her ache; she realised that their wailing had actually help her detach from the pain. Now the bitter knife was twisting afresh in her own heart.

The Healer shooed the mourners away and entered the room with just a few people. She shrank back into the shadows, unable to deal with this intrusion. She felt as if this was a charade for someone else’s benefit, but a cruel mockery of her grief. But his keen eyes sought her where she hid, and smiled with such gentle understanding that she had to take notice.  There was no mockery in Him at all.

He moved to the bed where the child lay, and took her by the hand, and spoke. “Little girl, I say unto you arise!” The voice was soft, and incredibly tender, but He spoke with such authority that, in that moment, she had no trouble believing that death itself would have to obey Him. And immediately the child arose, got up and walked around.

What do you do when you stand in the middle of a miracle? She was dazed, stunned as her world revolved into a new position. Was this real? Could this be? Can the dead be restored to life? Does God answer the prayers of an ordinary woman? Who was this Healer, and, if He really did have the power of God, why should He come into her house? She was afraid to move, to touch her child, for fear the miracle should dissolve and the agony return.

But the Healer noticed and spoke again. “Give her something to eat,” He said. And her world, this new, wonderful world full of hope and promise and gladness, turned right way up again, and she turned towards the kitchen.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Deep are these waters, deep and moving fast,
My mind, caught in the eddy and the swing,
Falters at knowing, yet is called to know,
The wonder and the mercy of this thing.

Once I would look at lepers on the street
Shuffling past, “Unclean!” their bitter cry,
Locked up within the prison of disease –
Yet these, I knew, were far more clean than I.

I, daughter of the seed of Abraham,
Born in the covenant, the fold of God,
Was now a creature of such bitter shame
I cringed from streets where decent women trod.

I cringed, and in the lonely bitter night,
I wondered how my life had come to be
A gagging poison moving in my veins
A tremulous and hated infamy.

But oh, my story is as old as time,
When the seducer came, well, I was weak,
And ignorant, believing this was love
Soon I became the victim false men seek.

Shame spiraled down through shame, and down some more,
Until that day they grabbed me from some bed,
And hauled me forth with coarse and cruel jests
I stood there silent, broken, with bent head,

Awaiting stones; but that day no stones came
Instead clear words I never thought to hear
Turned the accusers back upon themselves.
For the first time, I felt a different fear.

I heard their footsteps leaving, one by one,
Till all was silence, then I raised my eyes.
He looked at me as though my soul were real
And there was nothing for him to despise.

I did not understand, how could I then?
My dirty life was clean. My soul reborn
Sang with the angels, laughed against the night
And rose up like a bird into the dawn.

He took my shame, I never dreamt what cost
He placed on it – for shame he paid such price!
My worthless life was reckoned at such worth:
Purification comes through sacrifice!

And so he gave what I had never sought;
And so I live, and so he died for me,
And so his dear blood has my freedom bought.
He was made captive for my liberty.

I walk in wonder, I am mercy’s thrall,
Unfeigned, unstained, a captive of delight:
Washed into whiteness, no shame to recall,
And lifted into glory clean and bright.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Things you shouldn't say

Somewhere along the way I missed the memo.

Perhaps it was a fluff-cloud day,
When my heart was in the sky,
My attention wandering.

Or maybe fear
Clanked chains so loud
I simply didn’t hear.

Or maybe my parents.
For reasons all their own
Forgot to give the message.

Perhaps I was simply
Socially dyslexic -
Or someone switched the tags?

Somehow, it seems, I never learned the rules.
So much is understood, but never spoken
By some strange code whose key I never saw:
Truth reconstructed in a neater frame
To fit in some denatured comfort zone.
I will go wander with the daffodils,
Who never blush or stammer at my words,
And maybe ponder this strange mystery,
Or maybe not .. perchance a bird might sing. ..

Monday, October 22, 2012

Going away

Going away

It is only when you leave that you remember
The smell of eucalyptus in the air,
The rain that drums so hard and fiercely tender
The sunlight far too bright for you to bear.

The artful architecture of the gum trees
Where each branch twists in balance to the whole
Where leaves are worn as garnish, not as garment,
Their beauty has been rooted in my soul.

The balmy air of a soft summer morning,
Before cicadas sing the heavy heat
A sky so blue you yearn with reaching sorrow
And ground too hot to walk on in bare feet.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Music

The Music

Sometimes I hear it in a sudden snatch of birdsong,
The intensity of rain,
Your footsteps in the breeze.
You laugh through the cicadas
And splash in the fountains:
Air and water sing of you.

But more often I hear with my eyes.
The sky’s infinity sings of you:
Blueness in immeasurable caress.
I catch your tune in the rain-dropped leaves,
The gladness of buttercups,
The playfulness of clouds.
The lift of a bird’s wing
Breaks my heart with melody,
And the trees cry “Hallelujah!”
In antiphonal chorus.
The waves crash with angelic percussion,
And the small things warble, “yes!”
But clearest of all, the music sounds in stories.
Its chords ring out in courage and sacrifice,
Pianissimo in tenderness,
And marching sharp in truth.
Harps sound in common kindness,
And flutes in soul’s resolve.
The mystery of grace demands
An orchestra of tears.
In the story of your love
The music swells past bearing.

Blessed are the ears that hear,
And the souls that listen
And the hearts that understand.
Blessed are they that sing
Your own notes back to you
However out of tune.
And blessed are the feet that move in time
To the melody of heaven.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Let ..

Let me dance in your heart this fragile moment,
Let us kiss souls with wonder we have seen.
Let us hold hands and weep for life’s short-falling,
Let us hold vigil for what might have been.

Let us strew roses in the sunless alleys,
Let us plant trees where no tree ever grew,
Let us be unafraid to speak affection
Nor, in discomfort, turn from what is new.

Let us clap with delight like little children.
Let terrible compassion make us wise.
Let us breathe deep and share our secret dreaming.
Let us not let our old clothes cramp our size.

Let us wipe slow tears from each other’s faces
Let us look up and laugh against the sky.
Let us be swords – but not against each other.
Let us take up the Life that bids us die.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Knowing ..

They knew him in the breaking of the bread
But we are strangers now, and do not stay
But leave him lying buried in the hay

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Road

The beginning of the road called Love is so attractive that many people choose it. Not everyone does, of course, some prefer the golden road of Greed, or the stark, twisting road of Power, and others are drawn to Knowledge, or Pleasure or even choose to go nowhere at all. But it starts in wide meadows of flowers and soft sunshine, and many think that they have arrived when they have barely passed the entry point, and sit around in easy groups making daisy chains. What becomes of them when the storms gather, and the cracking lightning sizzles across the open fields, I do not know, but perhaps they have to make a real choice for the first time in their lives.

But the meadows are only the beginning of the road. It continues. Fairly soon (though sooner for some than for others, but such is the nature of the road) another road branches off, broad and fair, There is a row of fine hotels there, which cost almost nothing to inhabit. Many turn aside there, for surely this is a pleasant place to go, and look what pleasant people are already there. And every hotel is called ‘Nice’. And those that turn off at this point keep straying further, for each hotel seems more agreeable than the one before, and they are so pleased with themselves for becoming ‘nice’ people, that they do not even notice that each hotel is made of thinner and thinner cardboard.

But the road called Love continues, and gradually the travellers notice that three possibilities have developed. On the right hand side the road surface goes harder and smoother. Eventually it veers off from the road called Love, into Moralism. Those who take that exit will find it leads them at last to a stern wilderness strewn with rocks. As fast as they try to build themselves shelters there from the rocks, they pull them off again in order to throw them at one another. On the other edge, the left side, the path gets softer and softer, until your feet start to sink into it like sand. Eventually this veers off into the road called Tolerance, and those who follow it end up in a slow quicksand. Because they are all sinking they cannot pull each other out.

Meanwhile, shed of these diversions, the road named Love continues. It is narrower now, and goes more steeply. Sometimes it is so steep that one has to use both hands and feet to climb it. Sometimes it is so narrow it feels like walking a tightrope. Many turn back or stop when they reach those places. Some even devote themselves to telling others not to go there, “it’s too dangerous”. They do not understand that, though there may be scrapes and bruises, no one can ever fall very far. There is always a safety net: the Everlasting Arms are stretched to catch any who lose their footing, and lift them up once again.

At last, and the road is a different length for every traveller, they reach the summit of the road. It is a stark, bare hill, surmounted with a cross. By this time the journey has changed the traveller, and they rarely hesitate. Willingly they climb up to the cross, willingly they embrace it. And the moment that should be death becomes the moment of transformation, for the road of Love is the road to LOVE, LOVE in all its fullness, and they know themselves truly to be the beloved of the Beloved.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

My short rant

Some say that women have full equality, and are just “playing the gender card”. But women are not equal
n  While many more baby girls are killed by selective abortion and infanticide
n  While women can’t go out alone at night for fear of sexual assault
n  While the physical signs of aging are not treated with the same social respect in women as they are in men
n  While many kinds of religious leaders regard women as spiritually inferior
n  While a woman’s protests against injustice are dismissed as ‘emotionalism’ or ‘that time of the month’
n  While a woman’s experience in raising children is treated negatively in the workforce
n  While many parts of the world do not think that women need much education
A just society starts with each individual choosing to live justly and oppose injustice

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Warrior

How I longed for the freedom of Israel! I hated the Roman yoke we struggled under, and I was quite convinced that most of the problems I saw around me were the direct result of our nation being under Gentile oppression, and that if only we could be liberated from them, we would truly be the Israel of God that the prophets had described. My friends nick-named me the Zealot for my passionate views.

I was surprised when the Teacher called me to be one of his disciples, but I was entranced by the beauty of his teaching, and impressed by his miraculous powers. Surely he was the one sent by God to deliver us? So I followed, and I sat as his feet and I learned. He knew the scriptures better than any rabbi I had ever heard, but when he explained them, they came together in a different pattern. Truth itself was a different shape to what I had thought. The Kingdom of God, as he described it, was so different to the correct religious observances that the priests taught us. There was freedom there, as well as justice, and something else I couldn’t put a name to. Only later did I learn to call it love.

And the miracles? Truly he had the power of God! He could heal the sick, the blind and the deaf, calm a storm, feed a multitude from almost nothing, and even raise the dead. With such power, how could he not defeat the Romans and bring about a greater Israel than David or Solomon ever knew?

Even when they arrested him, I hoped this would be the moment when he turned the tables and showed his power. But it wasn’t like that. Convinced that something had gone horribly wrong, we fled the scene and cowered in hiding. Wasn’t he going to fight for us at all?

It was only days later that I began to understand. Yes, he was fighting for us in every moment of his suffering. Sometimes the warrior is not the one who beats everyone else up. Sometimes he is the one who gets beaten. It takes so much courage to suffer in silence for another’s sake. I thought the victorious fighter was the one with the shining armor and the blood-smeared sword. I was so wrong.

Our greatest need wasn’t to defeat Rome, our greatest enemies weren’t the Romans, but those who could devour Rome, Israel, and every human being that ever was or will be. Our greatest enemies were Sin, Death and Satan, and in that lonely torment on the cross he overcame them all. Calmly and deliberately, he walked into the ultimate darkness, and made a way. He was life, the very life of God himself, and that life was the light of men. It is easy to be brave when you operate in your strength, and the cheering crowd supports you. But to fight alone, invisibly, under insult and derision, and still stay faithful to the end? Such is my hero, my warrior, my Lord and my God.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Visiting Dachau

Dizzy with dreams we drop into a time
Where no dreams were: this stretch of bitter stone
Where the soulless aridity of scorn
Screams at the anguished, “Now you are alone!”

“What is a man?” The wind, so cold, so spare,
Pierces with mocking questions the great void
Between our sweet reality and theirs;
Thus are our bright illusions crushed, destroyed.

What separates us? Sixty seven years,
An educated nod to being kind,
A literature and a geography:
The comfortable counties of the mind.

But what unites us blows with bitter teeth
Across those counties. I and they are one
In all our fumbling, broken, human fear,
In what we dream, and what we leave undone.

As vulnerable as they, but not as brave,
I stand diminished, and I stand in tears,
Yearning their courage as I fear their pain,
Knowing that no attrition of the years

Must dim their story. At the chapel door
One crown of thorns says all that we can say:
The crucified stands with the least of these
And strips our false self-images away.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Night. It is forever night here, even when the sun shines, stark and blazing, overhead. It is the night of those men who love darkness, rather than light, because their deeds are evil. Darkness cloaks the truths we cannot bear to face, re-clothing them in the illusion of glamour.  But how many of these men know that they do evil? Some know, and take pleasure in it, they are devils in human form and cruelty and destruction are their delight. The darkness is both within them and without, and the pain of others has become their meat and drink. But most of them are men, human beings with wives and children, who love and delight in the common grace notes of life: the warm hug, the cool drink, the feel-good trappings of ordinary success. How did they come to be such instruments of Hell?

Some know that they do evil, but have lost the ability to preserve their own souls. They may be valiant on the battlefield they were trained for, but in the moral arena they are arrant cowards. They go through the motions like men in a waking dream, automata who do just as they are instructed with set faces and empty eyes. Somewhere, locked deep away, their soul is screaming with the terror of damnation, but they dare not listen. It is easier to sell your human birthright for a bowl of soup, than to throw your soup back in your superiors’ faces. Such men end up on the other side of the wire. They are called prisoners. But then, in such a system, who is free? So they fumble their nervous addictions, and try to pretend all is well.

And many deny evil, refusing to name it for what it is. Years of enculturation have made their hearts as cold, and as hard, as the ice on the Bavarian mountains. It is just another, necessary job. It is the prisoners’ own fault if they are hurt, if they are disobedient or inadequate and cannot meet the demands placed upon them. Weak men deserve what they get, and the elimination of the weak is the price that must be paid for a ‘better’ world. In truth, they have no choice. Once you admit the truth of others’ pain you can no longer deny your own: you must acknowledge that your own soul was not created to thrive in this barren wasteland, where dog eats dog and the hard men laugh at the bones. It is so much easier to drift along with the system, submit to the propaganda and the lies, and dismiss love as the realm of women and fools. And if the wind blows bleak and terrible in your nightmares, well, you have learned to endure silently even in your sleep.

But no night is eternal, and when the light of heaven breaks upon your prisoners and slaves, the eyes of the world will turn to you and demand an accounting. And no one will consider the sheer banality of evil, or the simplicity of the descent to Avernus, an adequate excuse. You were a human being, you were supposed to see and know. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Telling the Truth

Snow falls on Dachau, wintry year on year,
Covering, like the subtler snows of time,
The lineaments of naked truth and pain.
We speak the story.

The blur of story, and of memory bent,
Bending to edit, bending to rewrite, 
Will waver what is etched in blood and stone:
Theirs was the story.

We must remember, we must stand like trees,
And put our roots down in the bitter place,
To drink in all that is, and all that was:
Facing the story.

Every pretending opens up a gate
Through which a monstrous evil may walk forth,
To spew more filth on an uncaring world,
Numb to the story.

We must stand witness under time’s cruel lash:
The least we can do for the least of these,
Till memory becomes a sacrament,
Knowing the story.

Stark truth must stand, and we must speak its name,
With heavy lips but a courageous heart,
Speaking that our own souls have played their part –
Owning the story.

Let it not fade to make us comfortable,
Let there be justice done and justice said,
Until that hour when every wrong is dead:
This was the story.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Release

We were so afraid. Slavery teaches you to live by fear, but these cascading events had opened us to levels of terror we had sought our whole lives to avoid.  We had watched with horror, wonder and amazement while the plagues fell on our Egyptian neighbours. Were the old stories true? Did we really belong to a different God, greater than all the gods of Egypt, who, after leaving us alone and enslaved for generations, was suddenly making Himself known by great works of power? It was hard to comprehend, to re-adjust our thinking. Still, being freed from slavery sounded wonderful, even if we couldn’t quite understand what the alternative would be.

Then came the night that was different from all other nights: we went through the preparations like people in a dream, performing a sequence of actions with little understanding. It was all unreal. Then, right at midnight, a great cry of pain went up from the broken land. Egypt had stood firm against hail and darkness, pestilence and destruction, but the death of the firstborn brought a proud nation to her knees. Suddenly, they weren’t only allowing us to leave; they were urging us to be gone as quickly as possible! So at Pharaoh’s command and our neighbours’ encouragement we left, though we had never known any other home.

The next days passed in a haze of unreality: there we were, a huge mass of people, with our flocks and herds and basic belongings, following a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Who has ever heard of such a thing? And then, while we were still trying to make sense of it all, we learned that Pharaoh was pursuing us. Of course, what else should we expect? This had all been a dream of surpassing strangeness, and we would wake again to harder, harsher labour, if we woke at all, and did not simply die in the desert. We were very much afraid.

But Moses was unperturbed. As we stood there, helpless, between the great waters and the advancing Egyptian army, he stretched out his staff, a strong wind blew, and an impossible path opened before us. We walked across those strange wet sands clinging tightly to one another, watching with a kind of fascinated terror the mighty wall of water that loomed on either side of us.  There was no human reason why it should not fall down on top of us at any moment. By the time we got to the further shore we were aching with tension – and the army of Egypt was still following us, right down onto that terrible path across the bottom of the sea. And we stood there and watched them, blankly and bleakly, too spent with both the travelling and the terror to run any further.

Then, even as we watched, Moses stretched his hand out over the waters once more, and those towering walls came crashing down, and a gasp of wonder rose from our whole people as the Egyptians were swept away in that mighty torrent. Not one of them was left. And, as we watched, that enormous wave threw their bodies, their countless broken bodies, up upon the shore. And we wept and trembled at the marvel.

But as we stood there in shock, Moses led us in a song of praise to the God who had delivered us, and suddenly we were a people released into song, and with the singing came tears, and laughter and understanding, as we spoke out what we had seen and our words gave meaning to the events we had witnessed:

“The Lord is my strength and my song, He has become my salvation..”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hallowed be Your Name

First I must be hollowed:
From the twisted maze of wanting,
From my grasp of rags of comfort,
Ointment for the ego
And a pillow for my head.

Backwards, untwisting,
The subtle machinations,
The coil of self-deception,
The scaffolds masking fear,
(My intellectual lumber).

Let Your clean wind blow through my bones,
Piping desolation
Through the thin marsh, breathing
How all living comes undone.

And I bow my head.
The ground must be cleared
Before the cornerstone is set.

Let me rise, exulting,
Not in my own cleverness, but the foolishness of God.
Laughing as the winged birds laugh
High on the driving wind.

Your praise in every stone.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Beloved

He is the Lover, and has been from all eternity. In love he created all that is, in love He redeemed it, and in love He shall reconcile it to Himself. All that is good, right and beautiful flows from His love, for love is the very essence of Himself.  And if He is the Lover, then it is you who are the Beloved.

Yes, you. You crouch there, locked in your shame, paralysed by regret. You have done things which destroyed your very concept of yourself, and the sickening guilt pursues you. You had never seen yourself as a person who would do such things, and are horrified to find out that you are. How can you stand upright again? How can you look the world in the eye, or face your own reflection in the mirror? If the world knew the truth, the world would despise you. And yet, you are the Beloved. He has looked on sin, entered into the very pit of Hell, and when He looks at you, He sees His child. You are the Beloved.

You are so tired of the pain of rejection; so tired of people who promise so much and deliver so little. The more you need, the less they want to know you. There have been those who have hated you and scorned you, and you searched your heart with many tears to try to find a reason why. But none of their reasons seemed to stick, and left you more confused than ever. “What is wrong with me?” you cried out silently to the empty night. And you thought nobody was there. But He was there, He who, Himself, has been despised and rejected, a thing from which men turned away their eyes. For you are the Beloved, the apple of His eye. You are worth more to Him than all the riches of the world, and he longs for the day when He shall wipe every tear from your eyes. You are the Beloved.

Your life has gone nowhere. Your dreams fell apart in your hands, and trickled through your fingers into nothingness. You could have accepted a few failures as events to learn from and grow successful, but what do you do with this meaningless mediocrity? You have achieved nothing except survival, and just enough material comfort to numb out your aching soul. How is the world any better off for your existence? You are just part of the mindless machinery of the system, interchangeable with thousands. Yet you are the Beloved. You are made in His image, and one day His splendour will be fully revealed in you. It is not for your work or achievements that He loves you, but because you are His – the Beloved.

Pain has crushed you, and melted you in its dark heat, until nothing is left but an existential scream. You did not seek affliction, but it sought you, tearing at you with the teeth of hell. Such pain, such loss, such anguish: the crying point that God Himself must hate you to abandon you in such a place! Yet you are the Beloved. You are never abandoned, He walks through the furnace with you, and an eternity of joy waits on the other side. There will be justice, there will be consolation, and there will be the restoration of all things. You will know that you are, and always have been, the Beloved.

You are the Beloved, and He has loved you from all eternity. Neither death, nor Hell, nor all the forces of evil that ever were or ever could be can come between you. He has loved you with an everlasting love, and to Him you are the altogether beautiful. For you He bore all things and endured all things, and one day, when the shadows of this world are torn away, you will know just how utterly and wonderfully you are loved.