Tuesday, July 30, 2013


You do not speak, and, as the cold moon turns
I feel the darkness of descending night.

In these hollow spaces
My heart becomes an echo-chamber
Of the words I cannot speak.

Where is your face?
Where is the song you should sing back to me
Reverberant with you?
Are the notes all falling
Into a chasm only God can span?

I will take His hand
And walk across the bridge invisible
To that far place where I can wait for you

In the Garden where no fear can enter in.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Reason to Dance

She gazed out of the window, and her heart roiled with disgust and shame. She despised him, and she despised herself for loving him. But she was no longer that naive young girl who had been so in love with the handsome, victorious young man, or the innocent young wife who had helped her husband escape her father’s murderous plots. David and Saul – between them they had destroyed her innocence, trampled on her pride, and confused her heart till her one overriding idea was to protect herself from further hurt and guard her fragile dignity with everything she had left. She was the wife of a king and the daughter of a king, horse-traded by her father from one husband to another, only to be demanded back again by her first husband, but more as a status-symbol than his heart’s beloved since there were now other women in his life and in his bed.

And now, when dignity was all she had left, he was throwing it all to the wind, dancing like a crazy man out there in the street, half-naked, as if there were no level to which he would not lower himself as he celebrated the return of the Ark. How could such foolishness ever be appropriate to the worship of God or the dignity of the king? She could think of no reason in the world for him to dance like that, it was a betrayal of their royalty, and she turned her head away from the window as angry tears blurred her sight.

It was hours later when he returned to his own household, tired, exalted and smelling of the smoke of sacrifice, hours she had spent considering her wrongs and re-casting him as her betrayer. All she had left was her royalty, and now she found herself married, as she saw it, to an oaf. Her tongue was bitter with reproaches as she came out to meet him.

David was astonished. Couldn’t she see? Couldn’t she understand? He wasn’t a king because of some dignity he had constructed to make other men elevate him. He was king only and entirely because God had put him there. God had removed the house of Saul, God had overlooked David’s older brothers and placed David on the throne in an act of crazy, glorious grace. How could David’s dignity be of any importance at all? How could any man’s pride or vanity or fragile self-construction matter before such a God? How could it stay standing in the whirlwind of such love?

He shook his head in bewilderment. Today they had celebrated the great glory and wonder of Israel’s God as the Ark, the material sign of His presence, was welcomed back into Jerusalem. If ever there was a reason to dance, to forget self in the wonder-joy of such a gift to a people who had done nothing to earn it, then this was it. And if God asked it of him, he would abase himself further and think nothing of it. It was strange indeed that the lowliest in the land, the poor, the needy, the slaves, could understand exactly why he danced, and join with him in the tear-bedecked rejoicing of the meek who inherit the earth, the dispossessed who possess all things; Yet this proud woman, Michal, daughter of one king and wife of another, could only pour scorn upon his worship. And if she had so closed her heart against God, there were no words he knew that could make her understand.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Memorial to the Working Horse

After long labour on the patient ground:
The plough, the cart, the miserable machine;
After the frost-hard mornings, streaming rain,
The heart-cold silences, the knifing wind,
The hard jerk of the harness, straining toil,
The scant-filled manger and the draughty barn;
After the angry words or kindly pats,
The weather and the blether and the pain,
To yearn for rest yet do it all again ..

Not thus to find one’s immortality
In harness still, the endless round to tread.
The dream still potent, though yet unfulfilled,
Declares another way they had not said.

Another way – where hooves flash from the ground
Into fleet air to sing across the sky
As sharp as lightning or the vivid stars
As free as laughter soaring in delight.
Servant no longer to the goals of man,
Servant no longer to the gruelling day,
Servant no longer to sad servitude.
Here strength makes partner with dear liberty:
To run for joy in having legs to run,
Or rest content, with boundless time to rest
In sweetest meadows underneath the sun.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Remembrance of things awkward

Memory slams me hard into that night:
The lovely jewels of light across the bay,
The cold sharp air, the scrape of loneliness,
And blood too young to own I don’t belong.

Who can admit their mismatch,
At sixteen, when the heart cries out to know?

Many such nights
Of scrabbling effort, slow leaks of despair,
And laughter, quickly flashed, to hide it all.

What was the game they played with confidence?
I stood aside, I did not know the rules,
And, even less, knew where to find them out,
Or how to hide pathetic ignorance:
The pain of being other in their world,
But knowing I would rather wear that pain
Than stay behind in my grim solitude,
Rapunzel without hair, Aurora caught
In claustrophobic, long insomnia.

No photos live
Of that strange time, half chicken and half egg,
Half thorn, half flower, all an unripe fruit,
Still gagging on the marrow of my days,
And yet afraid that supper would come round
Without a place at table set for me:
The slideshow is still vivid in my head,
And how I thought the fault was all my own.

Pardon and peace
Flowed with the tears that washed those gritty years
And cleaned their gravel rash upon my soul
That I might heal with just faint silver lines
To trace the shape of a remembered pain,
And learn afresh the solace I have found
Deep in the heart of Love that bid me be. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013


The old man stood and gazed down upon the people – his people, his burden, his torment, his disappointment, the ones he had come to love so very, very much. He knew that this was the last time he would ever talk to them like this, and his heart was heavy with the longing for them to understand, to finally grasp who their God was and take hold of Him by faith. Some of them understood of course, and he looked at his young Lieutenant Joshua with a fond smile. Not that Joshua was young now either, his youth and his middle years had been taken from him by the harsh silence of the desert, the clamour of the cattle, the unending demands of these people, who always seemed to want the impossible, and a little bit more besides.

He told them their story again: the one they must pass on to their children and their children’s children; the story that gave them an identity, but, far more importantly, showed them who their God was, and what they must do to stay sealed to Him in unique and glorious covenant. For their story was nothing less than the revelation of God Himself, the God who redeemed His people and called them apart from all the nations of the earth to walk in His ways, and receive the promised blessing. To turn away from that story was to turn away from God.

He paused and looked out across the multitude, this nation, the promised seed of Abraham, and, his sight so clear in the presence of God and the nearness of death, he prophesied over them, tribe by tribe, as they stood ranked in their families and clans: Reuben, Judah, Levi... he named them and he blessed them in the words which he was given, seeing what lay before them and the encouragement they would need. He gathered them all in with his words, looking down the long years towards what would be. He saw their struggles, their to-ing and fro-ing between the God who had called them and the easy, sensual ways of the surrounding nations. They would enter the Promised Land, they would leave the Promised Land, they would enter it again. They would know glory and shame, plenty and dearth. What encouragement could he leave for the faithful, for the remnant that would always cling to their God, through the whirling years? They would have to be able to see beyond the outward show of things, to know, with rock-solid certainty, what lay underneath.

And now he knew exactly what to say. He raised his voice in triumphant praise of the God who was like no other, the all-powerful one who could never be defeated. “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms!” he declared. That was the thing that they must know, the place where their faith could find rest and root – nothing less than the burning, overwhelming love of God. He had met that love like fire in the bush and on the mountain, but he could not give them that experience, only the overwhelming truth he had learned, to look beyond the tumult and terror of the world, and rest where there would always be rest, on the arms of God which were always underneath.

Friday, July 19, 2013

In the Stars ..

“In the stars His handiwork I see, 
On the wind He speaks with majesty, 
Though He ruleth over land and sea, 
What is that to me? “[1]

If you are of a certain age you will recognize that song, it was very popular in youth groups in the seventies. I first encountered it in 1971, in ISCF at school, a group which I had only started going to in Year 11 as a brand new Christian. I will never forget my emotional reaction when I first heard it – someone was telling my story!

My story, at least in this truncated account, begins with an unhappy teenager. Of course, we all know it really begins with the God who loved us from before the foundation of the world, but this is the subjective version, about a girl in an unhappy, dysfunctional family who used to escape to the backyard at night to cry in the darkness and look up at the stars. It was those stars that convinced me that God was real, I could not look at their beauty and believe they were just cosmic accidents, or, if they were, where did my deep emotional response to them come from? Was the courage I drew from their loveliness merely a cosmic accident too? I found that very hard to believe.

I had started trying to figure out the truth at the age of twelve, reading a very simple book on comparative religion and finding most of the alternatives (Islam, Buddhism etc) quite repellent, to this day I struggle to understand why some find them so attractive. But I knew it wasn’t simply a matter of what I liked, but of what was true; so I would stand out there and gaze at the stars, and cry out to their Maker that He would reveal Himself to me.

“I will celebrate Nativity, 
For it has a place in history, 
Sure, He came to set His people free, 
What is that to me? “

Over time I became convinced that Christianity was historically true. It is, as I recently read somebody saying, “the only falsifiable religion,” i.e. the only one whose claims rest on historically verifiable facts that can be proved or disproved. If, somehow, it could be irrefutably proved tomorrow that Jesus never existed, or that He didn’t really die and rise again from the dead, there would be no Christianity left. Our faith rests on the objective truth of Who He is and what He has done.

This was a step forward, but it wasn’t enough and I knew it wasn’t.  I didn’t want just intellectual consent to a philosophy, I wanted, as I put it to myself, ‘a God I can give my whole self to.’ But I had no idea how to make that final step from theory to relationship.

Till by faith I met Him face to face, 
and I felt the wonder of His grace, 
Then I knew that He was more  than just a 
God who didn't care, 
That lived a way out there and

The crisis came when I had been attending the youth group at my church for a few months and one of the leaders approached me and asked if I would be willing to do the Bible reading at church the next Sunday. Now I was the shyest of shy teens, and the thought of getting up and speaking (even just reading) in front of people absolutely terrified me (and, yes, those who know me know that this is an area of my life God has totally healed). “I couldn’t do that!” I exclaimed, “It would be a test of nerve!”

His reply shook me to the foundations, “No, it would be a test of faith.” I had no arguments left, and consented. All week I prayed to a God whom I hoped actually existed, “If you are really there you will have to come through for me. I can’t do this.”

The following Sunday night I walked up the front of the church still praying the same thing. How does one describe that kind of encounter with God? All I can say is that I walked up that aisle hoping that God existed, and walked back down again knowing for certain that Jesus was Lord and I belonged to Him.

Now He walks beside me day by day, 
Ever watching o'er me lest I stray, 
Helping me to find that narrow way, 
He's Everything to me.

Yes. Indeed. Absolutely.

[1] ‘He’s Everything to Me’ by Ralph Carmichael

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Three thoughts about modesty

Three points on Modesty

By way of introduction, I should point out that “modesty culture” is something I have mainly learned about online, I have never been personally subjected to its full force. I’m sure there are good reasons for this, my age, for one (it seems to have become more virulent in recent years) but chiefly the differences between Australian and American culture. Our dress codes are a lot more casual all across the board, and fundamentalism has a much weaker voice. But, as I have followed the conversations on this subject with interest and not a little amazement, it seems to me that there are some things I haven’t seen expressed which ought to be included in the conversation. Below, in no particular order are three points I think should be mentioned ..

1. Lust is something more than physiology
I am not sure how to phrase this, because I don’t know who my readers will be, and I don’t want to cause unnecessary offence, but nor do I want to beat around the bush and be coyly obscure. Every adult knows that men have an automatic, involuntary physical reaction to female attractiveness, but I want to suggest that a purely physical response is not what the Bible means by lust, any more than salivating at the smell of delicious food is the sin of gluttony. Lust is an attitude of mind, not just a physical response. So you notice the distracting beauty of a woman, so what? Have you sinned? Well, it depends on what you do about it. Do you live with the inconveniences of the body (there’s a reason St Francis called it “Brother Ass”) thank God that He made women beautiful and get on with what you’re doing, or do you think that her desirability somehow gives you the right to objectify her inside your head and reduce her to a lust object in your imagination? That, after all, is what pornography does. And pornography as the interior drama of lust, which reduces women made in their Creator’s image to nothing more than the means of personal gratification, was not invented in the 20th century. It is as old as the human heart and has at its root the same contempt for others which lies at the heart of murder. Remember, Jesus was in every way tempted as we are, yet was without sin[1]. So yes, He must have been aware of the desirability of women, yet because He loved them He never objectified them and did not sin against them. Women were safe with Jesus not because He was a eunuch, but because He was Love.

2. What did Jesus say?
Matt 5 makes it very plain who Jesus held responsible for the lustful heart,  27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[e] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Yet very rarely do we hear those side by side verses expounded together. It is not the woman’s responsibility to preserve a man from lust, it is his own; and if he has to curtail some part of his freedom and power, analogous to chopping off part of his own body, in order to stop treating women as lust objects, then that is the price he must pay. It is always the ones with more power and strength who have the responsibility to lay down part of their privilege so that others may be free. A man needs to examine his own heart before he starts blaming women for his desires. He needs to grow up and take responsibility for himself.

3. Our clothing talks, but do we know what it’s saying?
Does this mean then that women can wear whatever they like without regard for “modesty”?
Yes.  And no. 
 I say this because we are asking the wrong question.
In 1Corinthians 10 Paul says, 23 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” 
You have the freedom to wear whatever you like, and you are not responsible for men’s responses, but there is also a place for being wise, not in terms of being enslaved by someone else’s weakness, but in terms of being certain that your clothes are saying what you want them to say.

Our clothing sends social messages. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t care what we wear, but every time we choose what to wear beyond the minimal requirements of climate and utility, we are saying something, telegraphing a message about ourselves to the world. “I mean business.” “I’m classy.” “I’m very feminine.” “I don’t want to be noticed.” “I take care of myself.” “I’m arty and non-conformist.” “I’ve still got what it takes.” And so on, for the messages we send with our clothes are as varied as the all the different personalities which women have, and the many different roles we play. But these messages are also socially encoded, so they are read differently in different times and places. And this is where we can get messed up – we think our clothes are saying a particular thing, whilst the people around us are reading them differently.

And this is the point where we need to take responsibility in order, not because we have to to be asexual or unattractive, but to make sure that the social messages we send by the way we dress are saying the things we want them to say, and not misrepresenting us.

[1] Hebrews 4:15

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Hagar's Song

The sand beneath my feet, and the sun high overhead..
The fullness of my womb, the emptiness of my heart ..
I have cried to the winds of morning, but my tears dried on my face.

There was spite in the tents of the women, and cruelty on our tongues
Wrong begets wrong, in the cycles of dust
And we turn to our own undoing:
Fools that we are and were, and Death lurks in the corners.

Who shall unravel our history, or roll back the waves of time?
Where did it all begin, this cycle of human folly?
Was I the first accursed, when my womb enlarged my pride?
Turn back our lunatic folly, for Death lurks in the corners.

The day that I lay in his arms, was that where the sorrow began,
With a joy that should never have been, did we leave the way of wisdom?
Did we think ourselves masters of life, to thus make the miracle happen
Contriving a way through the maze, but now see my light turn to darkness?

Oh God of the desert paths, great Lord of Abram’s knowing,
I have been foolish and weak, can you hear a woman’s crying?
Oh that my prayer had wings, to fly to the heart of your dwelling,
For the sake of the child in my womb, let this not be the ending!

Death lurked in my foolish heart, in the pride of my youth and my ripening,
I trampled Sarai’s  heart, till she flashed back her anger,
All for the sake of this child, which I carry, alone in the silence,
All for the sake of this child, demanded then rejected.


Death shall not swallow me! See, on the wings of the silence
Came the Angel of the Lord, to a woman and a servant!
Bidding me flee no more, but return to serve my mistress
For the sake of this child, this son, my baby born to blessing!

Hear oh you desolate sands, you springs of hidden blessing!
Hear oh you empty lands, you people homeless, wandering!
Hear of this God who sees, whose eyes beheld my weeping,
The God who bade me live, who holds me in His keeping!

For this child scarce begun, the Lord shall make him many!
Abundance shall be his: a future and a meaning!
For no one is too small to fall from God’s beholding
And life is in His hands, and blessing His bequesting.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Pilgrim

It is a strange journey he has made. Geographically, he travelled to a far country, but that was only the beginning of his extraordinary path, the prelude for all that was to follow. Socially, he has occupied almost every position it is possible for a man of his age and time to experience: favoured son, hated brother, slave, honoured servant, prisoner, and now one of the mighty in the land. In the process his soul has been torn and stretched and kneaded to a new design, a contour that has no recognisance in the age in which he lives. Today, informed by a greater revelation, we acknowledge with awe that it is the shape of a cross.

For this is the journey that really matters, the pilgrim path that is hidden behind the outward patterns of his life, just as the gold or silver to be refined is hidden within the furnace, a transformative miracle too bright for our eyes to gaze on. And it has taken many years, and many tears that were seen only by God, in the darkness of the pit, in the darkness of the prison cell, in the darkness of the nights when memory pierced like a sharpened spear and the stars hung in their places like a myriad unshed tears. He yearned for so much, for that innocent time when he never dreamed of betrayal by his own flesh and blood, for the rain-nourished pastures of Palestine, so different from these Egyptian fields, for the opportunity to watch his little brother grow up. Most of all, he missed his Father, and the special bond of love they shared.

He had learned to hide his wounded heart very quickly. Slave traders care nothing for the feelings of their merchandise, only that they should refrain from any sulkiness that might lower their price. But inwardly he seethed. How could his brothers do this to him? In his darker moments he would plot fantasies of exquisite revenge, imagining what he could do if they were ever in his power.

And now, beyond the wildest reach of his imagination, it had actually happened. For a moment he felt the choking flame of rage rise up inside him, but there was no fuel left in his heart for it to feed on. He had changed. Through all these years, through the heights and depths of his fortunes, he had set his heart to seek God with fervour and conviction and hold steadily to his charted course despite the injustices and setbacks. And this resolute pursuit of God had shaped and transmuted his heart. How could he hold his resentment against his brothers when God had turned it all to a good beyond his wildest dreams? Yes dreams, those dreams, dreams of greatness and power over all his family. How he had gleefully fed his ego on them so many years ago! Yet now, in this moment when long-past dreams merged into the common day, there was no self-aggregation, only awe that he had lived to inhabit such a Holy Place. And he could look upon his brothers faces without anger and resentment, but marvel instead that his awkward, resolute steps through the long desert years had led him to the place of absolute forgiveness.