Saturday, March 31, 2012

Journey's End

In terms of distance, it was probably the shortest journey he had ever taken since the time he first learned how to walk. But the distance was the least important part, except as a cause to marvel that he ever covered any distance at all. Nor was it so very life-changing at the time, though later, when he looked back, it assumed tremendous significance, because then he understood both the big picture and the intimate wonder of it all. Of course there had been emotion at the time – how could there not be? – but life was full of peril, accident and adventure, and living in the emotions of each moment he had not stopped to ponder the meaning. Passive reflection had never been his style, anyway. He knew, from one of those odd, momentary vignettes that take hold of the memory, that he had been wiping his wet face afterwards, but he could not have said whether it was the rain, or his tears, or just the wild spray of the storm-tossed lake. But there was emotion enough now, in the recollection ..

By any normal reckoning, the whole scenario was preposterous. There they were, out in the boat in a raging storm, in the exhausting pre-dawn darkness, where they would never have gone at all without the Master’s express orders. They had no idea what was going on, and no energy to speculate, it was taking all their strength to row against the strong pull of the waves. And then … In the confusion of the moment he had never been sure who had been the first to see .. there was that figure, oddly luminous in the fitful storm-light, walking across the top of the water. There wasn’t much that could distract a bunch of experienced fishermen in the middle of a storm, but this succeeded:

‘Are my eyes playing ticks?’ Look – over there ..’ ‘What is it?’ ‘I can’t see .. oh, yes, now I can.’ It’s coming closer!’ ‘Is it .. a ghost?’

It was only when Jesus called out reassurance that they knew who it was. Why he was walking across the storm-crazed waters was another matter altogether, but not one Peter was even thinking of at the time. Instead, asking permission, before he even stopped to think about it, he was there, out of the boat and on top of the water, doing the totally impossible. It was the shortest journey he ever walked. Just a few steps, glorious, impossible steps, and then he realized that this could not be happening, and, gazing at the wild waves all about him, he took his eyes off Jesus, his courage failed, and he was sinking in the waves, just like he would have expected to at any normal time.

But the waves did not close over him; that was not his journey’s end. Instead, even as he cried out for help, the strong hand of God took hold of him, and he was held secure by his Master in the midst of the storm. At the time it was a matter for wonder and worship; but now, looking back, he knew it was even more. He had stepped out of the boat and walked into a living parable, and the truth at the heart of it would sustain him all his days. For he knew now, in that heart-deep place where doubt has no penetration, that this is what his ultimate journey’s end would also be. He would step out into the raging chaos of death, and this same Jesus, in love immeasurable, would already have hold of him, and would carry him to safety, and into glory beyond his power to imagine. And that would be the greatest journey of all.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Through Lenten Lands

In this waiting is becoming ..

I shuffle-walk the desert of my questions
In the too-long season, the dreary, dark-grey dryness,
Checking the sparse map constantly, for fear I’ve gone astray.

Who said Celestial City was an easy stroll?

I would be swept up in Your love
In the great tide of the wind, that soars above the mountains,
Buffeted by wonder,
Screaming glory-praise into the wild, wild air.
But first I must grow wings.

Or heart-whole gathered in the gentle of Your care
Healed into certainty, resting in Your arms,
Needing no other lover in a world entire;
In the shelter-shade of knowing I am home at last,
Washed in that river.

But I am not yet come.

The stones of this world’s hurting crack against my feet.
I shrink from the sun by day and the moon by night,
Lest they illuminate
The wide stretch of my terror –
As if talking makes it so.

Forgive my folly.

These hands .. these hands ..
These hands – they cannot build
A house to be the dwelling place of God:
Built from the building blocks of stony hearts,
This only foolish hardened heart I have.
Better to tear down walls of my pretence,
Better to stand alone in scouring wind,
Face down the maelstrom of my brokenness,
Better to stand till I am forced to kneel,
Better to kneel till I fall in despair,
Until I know You are already there.
Here in the pray-er, and here in the prayer.

What did I think? That I’d come waltzing home,
Lurch, leaden-footed in my lovelessness,
Bringing my bleating hell to heaven’s halls:
Complete in incompleteness, armour-clad
With self’s excrescences and all befouled?

But still Your rain falls gently on my soul,
Washing the while I wait in Lenten Lands,
Until this pilgrimage has run its course.
In desolation, but not desolate.
For here, for me, Your table is prepared,
In presence of my neediness and pain,
In presence of my doubt and striving fear,
Till I am present with You once again.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Healer

He had mercy on them, he had always had mercy on them. From the beginning of all things, he was not only the Maker, but the Healer, for his children were broken and they lived in pain: pain of body, pain of mind, pain of heart and pain of soul. Every one of them was disabled in their deepest places; every one of them needed the restoration that only he could give.

To the man and the woman, naked and afraid in the garden, he offered a covering for the deep wound of their shame and a promise to restore their broken hope.

To those writhing in the agony of poison, desperate and helpless in their pain, expecting to die in the wilderness with no belonging place, he offered the simplest of remedies. All they had to do was turn their heads and open their eyes .. a repentance so very small ..

Their cries continually went up before him.

He offered liberty to slaves, and dignity to women. He saw their pain, and his mercy overflowed. He came to the desperate concubine, and she named him “the God who sees”, because, while everyone else ignored or objectified her, the Lord of all that is acknowledged and responded to her pain.

He came among them, he walked among them: a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He carried their pain, he carried their brokenness, ultimately he carried his light down into their darkness and his life down into their death, and their sin down into his absolute forgiveness. He was made man, and the pain and shame and degradation of being human assaulted him from every angle.

They came to him and he healed them: the lame, the blind, the deaf, those with strange fevers or withered, useless limbs. But it was never only their bodies, though relief for their physical pain was often the first thing that they sought. The God who had made them knew their nature, he knew how fearfully and wonderfully their flesh and their spirit were intertwined.

And so he spoke to them. He commended their stuttering faith, he pronounced forgiveness to the man who was brought with a paralysed body, he acknowledged his acceptance (not revulsion) for the woman who had bled for twelve shameful years. And for the lepers, the most despised and rejected of people, he offered not only healing of their terrible disfigurement but a reminder of how to be received back into the community of their people.
And the fools, blinded by his familiar humanity, said to him, “Physician heal yourself”. And they could not see that it was their own unbelief that got in the way. That stopped them from receiving from the abundance of their giving. Meanwhile, the helpless and the hopeless, the ones who had nothing, and therefore nothing to lose, received with open-handed wonder. The demonized were there, in all their agony, and he spoke with authority and their tormentors were gone. And for some, death itself was turned backwards, foreshadowing a greater resurrection.

But the deepest healing of all could not be done by words alone. Sin and death must be overcome from the inside. So, open-eyed and fixed of face, he went forward into death and hell, through impossible agony of body and soul, and then returned from the dead to become, in himself, the way by which the terrors of death and judgment could be overcome.

And still he heals, and his children come with their broken prayers and his mercy still pours forth to them. And one day he will come again, in his final act of healing, and all that is shall no longer groan in brokenness, but be made anew; and a new song shall fill the new heavens and new earth, for all creation shall be utterly well.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dancing Words

I shall set these words a-dancing, mad-spinning,
Across the table You have spread for me:
No containment, skirts lifted,
With glimpses of glory in their flashing feet.

Let my tongue soar the eagle’s way,
Unconfined by earth.

“And the Word became flesh ..”
And flesh became
A lamp for God to burn in.
The words ricochet through centuries,
Though they tried to contain them in stone.

Let me be of that other company:
The minstrels, the prophets, the wild-eyed-drunk-with-wonder.
Open my mouth till my breath
Can laugh in the enemies’ face.
And take these syllables:
Star-bright, diamond-hard, supple as grass in the wind,
And make of them a moving monument,
A mobile of the Spirit,
To dance in the light above our faces
While we learn Your vast delight.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When sorrow was the sea ..

The first line was a quote I read somewhere, the rest is what it inspired ..

“When sorrow was the sea, You taught me how to swim”.
When darkness was the way, You led me limb by limb.
You hold me fast to You, through all things bright and dim.

You tore apart my heart, when it was hard and cold,
You changed the price tags on this life I bought and sold;
And, though my skin is numb, Your sure arms still enfold.
I shall not walk the stars unless You lift me there;
My soul is empty noise till You transmute to prayer.
Through storm and gentle rain You teach me how to care.

I run, I walk, I shine, for You have named my name,
And, nestled in Your love, I need no other fame
You raise me to become the life which You became.

Through nights of broken glass until Your perfect Day,
Through death to come to life, since You’re the only Way
My need drowned in Your depth, as You make gold from clay.

And through my bleeding tears there comes a great AMEN
Song of my finished hope, I glimpse it now and then,
Love is the treasured joy I find again, again.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


He was thrilled at the beauty: the sunlight filtered green as it passed through the leaves, the softness of the grass, the brightness of fruits and flowers. The music of birdsong and running water flowed gently around him, and there were subtle perfumes in the air. And yet, even here in this paradise, something was incomplete. He had everything, and yet there was something more that was needed He did not know what the problem was until the Lord spoke, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Alone. He rolled the word around his mind, seeking to take hold of the flavor of the thought. What did it mean? That he was missing a .. helper. This was another word to ponder, a strong word, a puissant word. A helper was someone who came to stand beside you, and share their strength with you. Language dropped full-formed into his mind, but making a living meaning of the concept was another matter. He felt the Lord smile gently at his ignorance.

Then the animals came, and they delighted him. As he examined each one, new knowledge flowed into him. They embodied so many things that he needed to take hold of. For how could he rule them unless he understood them? And as he saw these things, and reveled in them, he named the creatures and spoke the meaning of each one. There was Bear: large and round and strong, with long fur and long claws and a love of sweet things. There was Weasel: small and sleek and sharp and swift. There was Antelope: graceful and elegant, running and leaping for the sheer, primal joy of movement. There was Sloth: slow and languorous, content to simply be in each unfolding moment of time. And there was Ant, so tiny he had to bend right down to see it, and so busy that he marveled at its ceaseless activity. Each creature was uniquely itself, yet none of them was .. alone. For the Lord had made a mate for each one of them, an exact counterpart, a she-creature unlike the he-creature, and yet, even more, so very much alike. She-bear was so clearly the match and counterpart for He-Bear; She-Weasel was so clearly the match and counterpart for He-Weasel. But where was his match and counterpart?

“Now you understand,” the Lord smiled. Then He caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and took part of the man’s own substance, from his side, near his heart, to make the perfect counterpart, the strong helper, the one who could match with him breath for breath, thought for thought and joy for joy. She was harmony to his melody and lifter to his worship. She was strength to his weakness and weakness to his strength. She was passion to his calmness and calmness to his passion. She was his tears and his laughter, and she would teach him love. She was absolutely equal, and wonderfully different.

The man awoke to wonder. He recognized himself in her, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. He was no longer alone.