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.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

All Things New

Can it be? Is it possible? Heads rise, eyes light in unimaginable hope, and hearts ache with their retreating numbness. The air is alive with possibility, and the song of the angels comes closer to human hearing. Can it be?

The old woman looks up. Racked with the pain of her stiffening body, she has struggled for years to turn her labour into prayer. But it has become so hard. She no longer has the strength to do anything for anyone else, it takes all that she is just to tend to her own survival. Her world has grown so small that she can no longer see the glory, and she is overwhelmed by weariness. But now .. can it be?

The child cries. Her parents have died from a cruel disease, and the older children tease her. Once her mother had held her tight and sung tenderly to her, and she had felt safe and loved. Her mother had prayed for her, with gentle tears. But now her mother’s bones are in a hole in the ground, and the hot sun beats remorselessly on her village. There is famine again, and she will be the last to get any food. She longs for someone to care for her and keep her safe. But now .. can it be?

The boy remembers when he used to care for his family’s cattle, it was not an easy life, but it was a happy life. There was listening and sharing and understanding, and the excitement of knowing that one day he would be tall and strong like his father. But then the soldiers came and raided his village, and he and his friends were taken away to be trained in the jungle. They were beaten, and made to march for miles, and forced to do horrible things if they wanted to be fed. Some of his friends have been killed. Soon it will be his turn to die. But now .. can it be?

The man sighs wearily and raises his eyes from the paperwork. The hardest thing he had ever had to do was face his wife and tell her he had lost his job. He has tried everything, and can barely find enough money to put food on the table. Their child is sick, and the medicine expensive. And now they are going to lose their house. For the thousandth time, he prays for a miracle. But now .. can it be?

The young aid worker leans against the doorway, brushing aside a futile tear. So much death, so much waste, so much poverty; so much rage and frustration and helplessness.  With the last drops of emotion she has left, she flings her anguished why towards the dusty clouds. But now .. can it be?

The scientist scowls at the computer read out. The toxicity levels are beyond his worst estimate. How could this fertile valley have become the domain of death? Why must it always be like this: ruin and destruction and horror? Is it not enough that man is always at war with his own soul? Must he always be at war with the world around him as well? But now .. can it be?

Hope stirs again where hope was vanquished.  The deserts burst into flower and the slaves raise songs of redemption. Glory lights up the shadows and the dead return to life. A fresh wind blows, whispering “He is coming!” There are tears of wonder and joy, but now the time is at hand when all tears are wiped away. And a voice speaks from heaven, penetrating as a trumpet, “Behold, I make all things new!”