Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter at the Salt Marsh

A poem inspired by a walk

Here the dry stillness lies, waiting the surge
Of strong, salt water, bringing in the flood,
In known season. Here the plovers stalk.
Here, behind barrenness, is life in bud.

Here, in this quietness under vivid sky,
I feel again the stirring of that song
That transcends mortal sorrow. In this breath,
I know I am not flotsam, but belong.

Death, life, the big things, meet in minute span,
Here, where I can encompass with one eye,
This space, this place, this challenge, sere and bare,
Asks if the flesh still fears to fade and die.

Flesh versus faith. Caught on the pin of time
We wriggle but remain. We sing, we weep,
And own our courage just for one more step.
We still have foothold though the way is steep.

He is my courage. He, and He alone,
Can carry me the way that He has trod.
For He, Himself has made Himself the way,

He is my Resurrection. He is God.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lent 40: Psalm 114

“Tremble O earth at the presence of the Lord”

This vigil is the slack point of the tide.
All is withdrawn, an emptiness profound
Waits for its filling. All creation hangs
Waiting, and utters still its groaning sound.

Earths dreadful grief packed tight into one place,
Earth’s dreadful longing caught up in His cry.
Now, all is silence, yet, the echo hangs,
Tight in the void, awaiting God’s reply.

Surely He comes! The mighty Lord of Hosts
In His almighty mercy bends to save,
Taking upon Himself our sin, our pain,
Bearing it all, then ripping up the grave.

These are death’s death-throes in this slack-tide hour,
Waiting God’s coming, for He will, He will!
Tremble indeed before Love absolute,

For He is near, His promise to fulfill!

The Women in the Shadows

We were there on that black and dreadful day. The word had spread quickly that he had been arrested, so we came, waiting in the shadows as women do. Nobody notices or cares about the women in the shadows; we are so unimportant that nobody notices or cares. Except him, of course. That was part of the wonder and the marvel, he always saw us, and honoured us by his seeing. We were not invisible creatures of the night to him – he saw us, he named us, he knew us. That was why we loved him so very much, because he gave us back our reality. With him we felt whole, and strong and valuable; to the rest of the world we were only shadows.

And so we followed him, painfully, on that last dreadful journey through Jerusalem, the journey to his death. It was agony to see his agony, his body already slashed and torn by the dreadful Roman whip, those terrible thorns causing blood to trickle down his face and into his eyes, his whole body stooped and struggling beneath the burden of his cross. Watching his pain was like being confronted with an obscenity so extreme it was almost beyond our ability to take in, numbing us with horror. So we followed in the shadows, as women do.

We stood there, on that anxious, dread-filled hill, wanting to be with him in his suffering. We could not take one iota of his pain away, but at least we could be there with him. It is what women do. We have no power to take the suffering from the world, but we stand with those who suffer: the crying child, the dying man, the woman racked in the hour of birth. We are there. We are there for the bereaved and the broken – when you live in the shadows you notice the pain of the world which the strong and the mighty overlook. So we stayed there, at the foot of the cross, and we wept for the pity and the horror of it until our eyes burned dry and we could cry no more. And the Roman soldiers and the Jewish leaders ignored us; we were just women weeping in the shadows, and that’s what women do.

And we stayed there watching him die, and our shadows seemed a darkness so vast that the whole world was swallowed up in grief. And all through the next day we lived out the most bitter Sabbath of our lives – so bitter that, in comparison, dust and ashes would be sweet as honey. And we huddled in the shadows and we mourned, on that grey, grey day when there was nothing left to do but feel the enormity of our loss. We had forgotten that it was when darkness covered the face of the deep that God said, “Let there be light!”

The whole world knows the story now, the story of that still-dark shadowed morning when we went to anoint his body as our final gesture of love, and found instead an empty tomb and a risen Lord. But it was our story, we were there, and we drink its gladness and wonder all our days. We were there when the morning broke and the shadows fled away, when our tears were turned to laughter and our sorrow into joy. We did not need our shadows any more.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lent 39: Isaiah 53

Silence before the Lamb,
The broken Lamb of God!
Silence before His pain:
The whip, the nails, the blood!

Silence before such hell
No words of ours express!
Silence before the love,
That bore it all for us!

Silence to know that He,
In weakness was despised.
Silence to own that we
Rejected God’s own Christ.

Silence, for here all words
Fall short and fall away.
His light our darkness bears,
And darkness blots out day.

Silence to see such love
That would the stoniest break
For all that He endured,
He suffered for our sake.

Speak then, shout out His love,
Whose depth cannot be said;
For Christ was crucified,
Now death itself is dead!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lent 38: Colossians 2: 8-15

We stand between truth and falsehood,
At the junction of the way,
And remember You are the way.
The rules of man lead only to the end of man:
An end called death.
And the screeching sound of our own confusion
Is the screeching brakes 9of those who turn around.

Do not embrace the lie.

He is not the whispered story
That the wind blows to oblivion;
He is not an archaic system
That our wisdom has outgrown;
He is not the foolish credulity
Of the ones afraid to say no!

He is more real than the sun that burns you,
The earth that upholds you,
The sea that encircles you,
The atoms and the cells.

His life is no illusion.

He will cut away from you,
With surgery most crystal and precise,
All things that are not life.
You will become scarecrow:
Ragged, mocked, alone:
In the field, hanging in the rain,
Wondering and afraid.
And it will be for gladness,
Such gladness as the morning stars
Sang together to proclaim:

A masterpiece of glory.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lent 37: Hebrews 12: 1-3

Let us fix our eyes

They have gone before and they show the way
Making a trodden track through world’s dark woods
Showing how it is done by mortal men.

Suffer us to walk on as they have walked
Suffer us to accept this other path
Suffer us to embrace the faith-found way.

Let us be shining-sure, the while we walk
Through doubt-tossed valleys, scrambling broken rock,
When all else falls away, He still is there,
Author and finisher of this strange path,
He will perfect this flawed fragmented faith
Into a beauty that will sing of Him.

Let us then toss aside what weighs too much,
For this strait journey: petty rules of men,
Fears of the flesh, the cravings of our pride,
The dragging burden of entitlement
That pulls us backward from love’s dizzy path,
And trust instead the Spirit and the Word.

Suffer us to keep eyes fast-fixed on Him.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lent 36: John 12; 20 - 36

Except a grain of wheat …

This is a strange, strange road to glory.

Not here a trumpet, nor the sweet applause
Of angels rank on rank in dear acclaim,
Nor victor’s sword, nor crowds that seethe and roar
For joy, nor here the high and golden throne.

Here is the bitter moment closing in.
Here is the crowd that does not understand,
The futile crowd that scorns a path so dark,
And will choose bread and circuses instead.

Here is the forerunner walking the way
Called cruciform. Here is the life laid down.
Planting must come before the harvest rich
And here the seed is sown into death.

And He who would to depths of darkness go,
Down to the uttermost of death’s despair
Tastes here, before that day, the agony,
And bids us all walk forward by His light.

He tastes before Him, in His shuddering flesh,
The nails, the whip, the tortured crown of thorns,
And chooses still, and chooses us as His
And chooses thus to draw us into life.

This is a strange, strange path to glory.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lent 35: Exodus 10: 21 - 11: 10

The final plague

God so much greater than all Egypt’s might,
God of the desert stars and desert sand,
God who has called Your people to be Yours,
Under the lamb’s shed blood we take our stand.

God who has watched the nations rise and fall,
God who is ruler over history,
God who has heard our slavery’s harsh cry,
You have called out Your people to be free.

God who has loved us since before all time,
God, calling us to know You as our Lord,
God, who brings justice like the rolling sea,
And judgement sharper than the sharpest sword.

God, You, Yourself, our sole deliverance,
God of all righteousness, and of all grace,
God, You, Yourself, our stricken, dying lamb,
God who will bear all judgement in our place.

God of our exodus from death to life,
God, whose sure word is our amen, and yes,
God of the Resurrection and the Life,

God who has lavished us with love’s largesse.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lent 34. Psalm 18: 1 -7

The Lord is my Rock

My God is my refuge and rock,
A fortress secure where I go
In every trouble or trial
For here I am safe from my foe.

In doubt or in desperate fear,
I cry out my need to the Lord;
For no one is greater than He
And His strong response is assured.

My God is so worthy of praise,
In mighty, omnipotent power;
But more! I’m the child of His love,
Held close to his heart hour by hour.

No power in earth or in heaven
Can hold me apart from His grace.
The grave has been vanquished by Him
Who rules over all time and space.

Great mountains of terror may loom,
But never upon me can fall,
In the most precipitous place

He holds me securely through all.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


They thought they had finally figured out what he was doing. It was all so confusing. He had talked about dying in Jerusalem, but now he was going there anyway. He had talked about being handed over to the Gentiles; what did the Gentiles have to do with Israel’s Messiah? (except, of course, that he would eventually crush them and restore Israel. That would be something to see: Israel restored, free and glorious, heavy-handed Rome banished from their lives, and Jesus on the throne as King David once had been!) But it was terribly unclear – first he talked about how dangerous it was, and now he was obviously about to make a public spectacle of himself! If it was so dangerous, why didn’t he just lie low for a while? Or, given the power that they had seen him use, power which must surely signify his Messiah-ship, why was he worried about danger at all? If ever someone had the ability to defend himself, then surely it was Jesus?

And then there were all these arrangements about a donkey. (A donkey???? A donkey that had never been ridden????)) They had no idea when or how he made these arrangements, but apparently he had! So two of them duly fetched the donkey, threw their cloaks over it in lieu of a saddle, and there he was, riding into Jerusalem! Suddenly it all started to make sense; now, assured and confident, they could lift their heads high as they walked in his train. Somebody remembered the words of the prophet Zechariah, how the righteous, victorious king would come to them riding on a donkey, and they looked at each other, round-eyed with excitement.   For there were the crowds ,cheering wildly, throwing their cloaks down before him, tearing palm branches from the trees that lined the road so that they could wave them in the air while they cried out “”Hosanna! Lord save us!” It seemed a glorious moment – finally Jesus was coming into his own, now he would take up his throne and reign gloriously as their Messiah-king! They were so sure it was finally falling into place!

It was only much later that they recalled that Jesus alone had seemed unexcited by all that was going on. It was not just kingly dignity – he had actually seemed unhappy … no, something much stronger than that, as if he was bracing himself to carry an impossible burden, as if every step into Jerusalem was a step closer to something dreadful. And it was later again before they truly understood, before they found the truth upon which they could stand with an assurance so absolute that it would carry them, through every vicissitude, to the ends of the earth!

For there was no assurance in earthly kingship, or in the plaudits of a fickle crowd who could cry out ‘Hosanna!’ one day, and ‘Crucify him!’ just a few days later. They had seen where that led – to a crucified king and the daylight turned to darkness. But in an empty tomb and a risen Lord, in the overcoming of sin and death and every power of the evil one, here was a place where a man could find such assurance that he could rest upon its truth for all eternity.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lent 33: Genesis 17: 3 - 9

The Covenant with Abraham

God of the frosty brightness of unnumbered stars
And the cold, sere winds across the moon;
God of the crushing depths of sea,
And the barren mountaintops;
God of unbearable holiness,
And uncreated light,
Who speaks from the thunder and the whirlwind,
And from Sinai rimmed in fire ..

You see each sparrow fall,
And count our every tear;
You are tender to the finest petal,
And send the soft, spring breeze;
The perfume of the rose is Your delight,
And the sheen on the butterfly’s wing,
And You have visited and redeemed Your people.

One man stood
Alone amidst the mystery,
And his faith was counted as righteousness.
One man stood
Alone before his God,
And You promised a multitude in blessing.
One man stood,
Childless and alone,
And You called Him the Father of a Nation.

One man hung
On a cross alone,

And all the peoples of the world are blessed.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lent 32: Psalm 90

Dust to dust to dust
And the ash-wind blows across the earth,
Till the bitter taste of morality
Chokes the soft breath from our lips.

We are frailer than the flower
For we die still unfulfilled,
And our flesh carries no hope.

Like Cain, we are nomads,
Tossed from one idea to the next,
With trouble nipping at our heels.
All our days pass swifter than an arrow’s flight.

Give us to know You Lord,
Our hope and sanctuary.
In You the attrition of the years
Is silenced by eternal gladness,
And our hope springs up afresh,
For in You we place our trust.

In Your light we see the darkness truly,
Chained only to this world.
In Your love is a rest beyond the reaches of mortality,
And a hope no tears can quench.
Even the work of our hands
Becomes a sacrament of blessing,
For we are held in You.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Lent 31: Romans 5: 6 - 11

While we were still sinners …

Trapped in the well of darkness,
Trapped in the well of shame,
Hopeless, benighted, helpless,
And yet to me He came!

Burdened beyond my bearing,
Broken beyond repair,
Lost in death’s darkest valley.
And yet my God was there!

Crippled beyond all movement,
Helpless to fight or flee,
Yet God came to my rescue,
Utterly loving me.

Ransomer and Redeemer
Willingly paid the price;
Conquered hell’s deepest darkness
With His own sacrifice.

I sing His praise forever.
I sing because I’m free.
I sing unmeasured glory,

Because He first loved me!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Lent 30: Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd

Sheep of His pastures I,
Blessed to be in His fold
Drinking from pools of peace
Nurtured by grace untold.

My soul is in His hands:
My body, heart, strength mind,
He leads me into Love,
His is the peace I find.

On the strange rocky path,
In the dark, bitter day
Fear shall not overcome,
Nor shall despair hold sway.

Death waves his bitter sting,
Mocking all righteousness.
My risen Lord is king,
He will restore and bless.

My risen Lord is king
He spreads a feast for me,
So am unashamed
Before my enemy.

My head He shall anoint
With His own Spirit’s grace.
In His eternal love

He has made me a place.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Lent 29: John 12: 1 - 11

Mary anoints Jesus

Let me be one who loves You
Beyond all rational accounting.
Let me be one who loves You
In the hidden silence,
Or before a gaping world.
Let me be one who loves You,
Ready to pour myself out
From Your pouring into me.
Let me be one who loves You
With the same extravagant madness
With which You first loved me.

Bethany and Calvary,
Linked together in one holy dance.

You will never scoff.

Let the tears of my tenderness flow freely,
For there is no love like Yours.
Set me free to serve forever
For there is no love like Yours.
In the dark, stark Friday places
Let me whisper Hallelujah,
For there is no love like Yours.
Where the angels cannot follow
Let my human steps pursue You
For there is no love like Yours.

The Christos, the Anointed One,

Went forth to die my death.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Lent 28: Hebrews 13: 18 - 25

This God is my security,
This God who holds me fast,
His everlasting covenant
Shall bring me home at last.

He is the God who has made peace
For us in throes of death;
Has lifted us into life
And filled us with His breath.

He is the Shepherd of the sheep
For all eternity;
He holds His own close to His heart
And saves abundantly.

He shall transform us step by step
To walk in Jesus’ way,
To turn aside from futile things
And trustingly obey.

His is the love that died for me
His is the awesome power;
And He who makes the dead to rise

Shall shield me hour by hour.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Crossing

Oppression and bondage lay behind them, the terror of the unknown lay ahead. Their leader was a man who was one of them, yet not one of them. The oldest ones whispered that he had been rescued from death or slavery as a baby, and been brought up to the fine life of the palace. Then, about 40 years ago, he had been accused of murder, and fled the country. Now he was back, after twice escaping sentence of death, and he had achieved what no one else had ever achieved, but would it really work? They had seen the great plagues and the devastation that they wrought, but that was the battlefield of the gods, and not for the likes of them.  And could they really trust this stranger, or would he just lead them into more danger and death than they would have known if they’d stayed quietly home as slaves? He spoke in the name of the God of their fathers, and appeared to be a mighty magician, but everyone knew how mighty the gods of Egypt were, whilst the God of their fathers had let his people languish in slavery for generations!

But they followed Moses, while their hopes fought with their fears, and they were led by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night along the desert road towards the Red Sea. But the Lord bid them turn back, and encamp at Pi Hahiroth, and they were bewildered. Their bewilderment turned to terror though when they discovered that Pharaoh’s army pursued them. Was Moses torturing them, bringing them out here to be slaughtered rather than leaving them to die in comparative peace in Egypt? They were caught between the soldiers and the sea, and there seemed no hope.

But then, at Moses’ direction, they walked forward into a very different kind of terror. The pillar of cloud moved to the rear of them, standing between them and the Egyptians, and Moses, standing before them, stretched his hand out over the waters, and they were awestruck as, before their widened eyes, a strong east wind suddenly blew back the waters upon themselves, and a pathway opened up for them across the sea bed – a pathway they were called to walk between towering walls of water! Who had ever heard of such a thing?

But traverse it they did, for the fear of the Egyptians drove them forward – a fear they understood only too well. Nervously they looked from one side to the other as they crossed, knowing that they were walking through an impossibility, and at any moment those waters could crash down and sweep them all away. But every last one of them made it through, then turned, to watch appalled, as the army of Egypt started to cross on the impossible path as well. And Moses stood there and waited, and so, exhausted by this strange and dreadful journey, they stood and watched as well. Then, when most of the Egyptians were on the seabed, Moses stretched out his hand once more and there was no more path, for the waters descended and the Egyptians were swept away. Never before had a people been so mightily delivered, never before had a salvation looked so complete.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Lent 27: Psalm 80

Make your face shine upon us

No branch can graft itself
Upon the One true Vine.
Yours is the flowing life
Yours is the bread and wine.

You are the only way
The only life we know.
Restore us, make us whole,
Or down to death we go.

Down to the depths of death,
Down to the darkest place:
There is no life in us
We only live by grace.

Unless Your face should shine
Then we are dark indeed.
Tears are our only drink,
Ashes our only feed.

We perish on our path,
Helpless to find our way.
But if you shine Your face
On us, then all is day.

Oh Lord come shine on us,
Our broken lives restore.
That we may worship You

In light for evermore.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Lent 26: Luke 19: 1 - 10


You have bid me climb down from my hiding place,
Where I seek to escape my own smallness.
Is loneliness indeed.
The canopy of my covering
Hides many broken things.

I have walked the path of the unwanted,
Till the consolation of accumulation
Enmeshed me in deception.
No none heard me cry.
I have wept on the billy-goat paths
To the wayward secret places
Then denied my tears in the marketplace
And denied the tears of others.
Nobody cared.

But You knew me.
Beyond reason or thought, You knew me,
And You called me to come down.

So I came.
Scribble, scrabble,
There are splinters in my hands!
(And I do not even care)
For you desire to come
To the ramshackle shack of my wracking
To grace with Yourself the empty places,
Enclosed in my hollow mansion.

Known at last,

I do not need these things!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Lent 25: John 5: 17 - 30

The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God …

He will make the dead arise,
He exalt them to the skies!
He who did His Father’s will,
He is living, reigning still.

He did not choose His own way,
He submitted to obey,
Suffered, hungered for His own –
Sits forever on the throne.

He who did not raise His voice
When Barabbas was their choice,
Shall a shout of triumph give
When He calls the dead to live.

He who laid aside His power,
Bore the hell-dark of that hour,
Suffered past our deepest guess,
Sin and death to dispossess

He is God and He is King
Victor over everything,
Death and hell are in his thrall,

He has triumphed over all.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lent 24: Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength

There is no certainty here.
This ground is not so solid.
The earth itself comes undone, falls into ruin,
Earthquake, volcano, tsunami
Break up the solid rock,
And the cries of the broken encircle the earth.

The mountains do not endure:
They erupt, they fall away,
And the everlasting hills are a geological moment.
The seas alter their boundaries,
The rivers run where they will,
And the terrible storms engulf us.

Do we know our God?

There is one river whose course cannot be dammed,
Flowing from the Eternal city
To the thirsty hearts of men.
There, where God dwells
No good can fall away,
No enemy destroy,
No rust take root,
And time is no despoiler.

All the works of our hands
Fall away, fall away;
But held in His hands
We endure.
For we are His.

Find your rest then
Beyond the boundaries of time,
Where the only map is love.
For the things unseen are more certain
Than the earth beneath our feet.

Our stronghold is the Lord