Monday, January 20, 2014

The Animals' Retirement Home

One more old pachyderm, restless and weariful,
Fighting his way up the old kitchen stairs
Searching for crumbs of a cheese that was wonderful,
Wary, as always, of buckets and chairs.

One more old ‘potamus, hunting the garden beds
Seeking a hose that is dribbly and wet,
Trampling the roses and breaking the spider threads
Hoping the gardeners will choose to forget.

One more orangutan, hiding beneath the sheets
Wishing that black cat would wander away,
Drawing a treasure map, tracing the empty streets,
To find the sweet fruits of Ancient Cathay.

One more old polar bear, wise as a unicorn,
Puzzles his way through the diction’ry’s page,
Trying to picture the bagpipes and flugelhorn,
Wondering if lemurs could play them on stage.

One more old albatross, perched on the mantelpiece,
Practicing sea shanties in a flat key,
Cannot recall how to contact those helpful geese
Who used to fetch him a nice cup of tea.

One more old kangaroo, hating boiled Brussels sprouts,
Wants to make custard with raspberries and cream,
Hunts through the pantry, with all of its ins and outs,
Fearing that walnuts might be too extreme.

One more old chimpanzee, stuck in his rocking chair,
Nibbling stale nougat and knitting a scarf,
Drops all his stitches when he gets an awful scare,
Brushed from behind by a passing giraffe.

Madame the manager, chicly dressed tabby cat,
Frowns at account books and nibbles her pen,
How can she buy a new coat or a winter hat?
They’ve only paid her in peanuts again!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

In the Night

It should have been my moment of triumph. I had outsmarted my brother and got away with it. The blessing I had hungered for with every breath and heartbeat was mine. I had never understood why Esau should be entitled to it just because he shoved his way out of the womb first. He only wanted it because it was his, just like, all his life, he had wanted anything that he grabbed first, or that he could take from me. Possession was what mattered to him, as it had from the moment we were conceived. Right from that moment there had been a strange, rarely articulated, competition between us, and in some unintelligible way, Esau was always keeping score. Yes, ok, I admit that I was just as competitive as he was, but I kept score very differently. He could have all the trash along the way, the only thing I desired was the blessing and the birthright – his perquisites as the firstborn which for him weighed in the scales at the same value, or slightly less, as a bowl of lentil soup.

So here I was, having tricked him out of the blessing, and now fleeing for my life under the guise of seeking for a wife from our own people. And I had never felt so desolate in my life. I had obtained my heart’s desire, and now my heart was hungrier than ever before. Only now, in the lonely spaces of the desert road, could I face the question that really haunted my heart: if the blessing was obtained under false pretences, how much was it worth? And whilst my father had spoken his words of power over me, was god in agreement, God who could see through every disguise and before whom every secret desire of our hearts was laid bare? Would he turn the blessing to cursing? I realized then that all my hunger for the blessing, all my cheating and conniving, was not really about Esau at all. I wanted God’s favour as surely and completely as I wanted the sun and moon to rise in their appointed times.

My head hurt with the spinning questions, and I was glad when the sun set and I could choose a suitable stone for a pillow and simply lie down and rest. I closed my eyes, wondering if sleep would elude me. But I slept, and in my sleep I dreamed, and in my dream God spoke to me and brought me his peace.

In my dream there was a mighty ladder reaching all the way from the earth where I lay into heaven itself, and the presence of the Lord, and between heaven and earth the angels of his mercy were ascending and descending. And God himself, the God of my father Isaac and his father Abraham spoke to me, the least of their descendants, as I lay there in the dirt, and he promised to me, in the sickness of my shame, the same glorious promises, the blessing that mattered more than life and breath. Even though my journey was in the opposite direction to my forefather’s, God would be with me and would return me to this place. And my night was turned to day, and my heart commenced its long journey into worship.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Seeing Glory

It is strange how memory shapes those years, that time outside of time, those three years that those who come after us will ponder and dissect and discuss for however long a time it takes till He returns. They will wonder, they will question, and sometimes, questioning the very nature of time itself, they will wish that they had been there in our place. But we were the ones who were there, who lived that time, who walked in his presence, who loved Him in the ordinary way, as a man may love his dearest friend, and who learned, in the midst of ordinary living, that He was not ordinary at all. We would travel, in the space of a breath, from common affection to something akin to worship, though, at the time, for I must tell an honest tale here, most of the time we hardly understood at all what was going on. I could lurch, in a heartbeat, from naming Him Messiah, and even Son of God, to trying to instruct him on His mission. We saw so much, and we understood so little, until it was too late, and we could not live those particular days ever again. But the Comforter did come, just as He promised, and we have lived and walked and breathed in His holy presence, and counted our sufferings to be the tiniest of measures when weighed against that privilege.

But I remember those days still. There is the inevitable blurring of so many ordinary hours into one another, but there are other moments that stand in sharp relief, like the hilltops that still shine golden when the sun is low, even though the valleys have fallen into deep shadow. And on one such hilltop we saw His glory in a very different way.

It was less than a week after I had first named Him as Messiah when He called the three of us to come with Him up a high mountain. There we were, utterly alone with Him and suddenly, right in front of us, He was changed. To call His appearance radiant, dazzling, shining … the words are technically correct, but they do not convey a fraction of the experience. Glorious? Yes, I suppose, but it was as if we had never known what the word ‘glory’ meant until then. And not only was He transformed into the utterly incomprehensible, but there were two others with Him. Somehow we knew that they were Moses and Elijah.

At this point I started babbling crazy nonsense. “It is good to be here.” (Was I insane? It was the most wonderful and terrifying thing that had ever, ever happened to me, and I came up with that gem of banality!) But it didn’t stop there, I then went on to suggest we should build them shelters, right there on that mountaintop – as if such wondrous beings had any need of earthly shelter! My only excuse is that I was so terrified that I yearned to fill that holy silence with the first inanity that came into my head – anything just to make it seem more normal!

Yes, terrified! Anyone who thinks that they can stand there, straight and steady, in the presence of absolute holiness is deluding themselves. Yes, it was beautiful, beauty that wrung our hearts with that delight which is chiefly yearning, but by its very beauty it challenged all the dark, comfortable little corners of our souls in which we take our ease. We wished it would leave us alone; we wanted it to continue forever.

Now, all these years later, I still take comfort from that memory. It is too easy to fix our eyes on the troubles of this world, to forget the transcendent wonder that lies just beyond our sight, but I, privileged to have seen so much, His torment, His resurrection, His hands blessing the bread and breaking it that we might eat, I have seen this too. John, who always had the gift of words, put it this way:  “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Recipient

You, always, are the One who gives.

I am the parched country,
The empty cup,
The sunless land.

I am the bird that cannot hatch
till You descend to set me free.

I am stone crying out to be flesh,
A song without music
And words that drift away.

I am the core without the apple,
And the seeds are sterile:
The wingless bird, the windless flute,
Silently out of tune.

I am the puddle
That spreads without direction,
The puzzle without form.

But I am Yours:
A flame lit from Your fire,
And the song of Your singing,
Sparrow becoming eagle,
Bud become flower,
The dry stick bearing fruit.

The secret spring
Of Your uncapped joy runs through me,
Bubbling, bubbling ..
Teaching me, while still earthbound,

The laughter of the stars.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

A Fresh Start

Like a child curled safely in the darkness of the womb, waiting to be born, they huddled in that upper room waiting for the promise to take place. They had no more idea of what would happen than an unborn child has of the world beyond; but it was enough that their risen Lord had commanded it, and so they waited. And some recalled how Israel had waited in terror at the foot of Sinai for the coming of her God, but theirs was not the same terror (though much awe), for they had been privileged to see God in the flesh, and had beheld his glory, full of grace and truth.

And so they waited. And there came a sound as of a mighty rushing wind, filling the whole house where they were, and an appearance as of tongues of fire which separated and came to rest on each one of them individually. And again some recalled the stories of Sinai, how, after a period of waiting and preparation, Israel came forth to the foot of the mountain, which was covered in smoke, for God had descended upon it as fire, and the earth trembled. And a nation, God’s chosen people, had been born, sprinkled with blood and sealed with a covenant written on stone. Now, with wind and flame and the transforming power of God, something else was being born in Jerusalem that day – the church, the new-covenant people of God, blood-bought on a bitter cross and sealed to god by the Spirit who now wrote His law upon their hearts.

And they began to speak in other tongues, for His word was let loose among them, and the curse of Babel was reversed. In the beginning God had spoken and his words had brought creation into being: He said’  “Let there be light!” and there was light where only darkness and chaos had been. Now his new-born church, empowered by the gift of His Spirit, spoke out his words, in the tongue of every tribe and nation, nations whose existence they had barely heard of, let alone known their language, and light dawned in the darkness of human souls as they listened, and they became a new creation, and were added to the new-born church. Never had these people expected to hear the wonders of God proclaimed in the native language of their hearts, as if there were no second-best nations in the eyes of God!

Of course there were those who stood by mocking, as there have always been mockers since the beginning of time, who sneered when they saw the infant church drunk on glory and said, “They have had too much wine.” For they were of a sour vintage and neither knew, nor wanted to know, that this day the wine of the Spirit had been poured into new wineskins and a great harvest was at hand.

For the infant church had seen her Saviour die for her, and she had seen Him rise again, overcoming death on her behalf, and now she knew who He was, and that she belonged to him forever. And now, empowered by the Spirit, she was ready to start turning the world upside down.