Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Day of Reckoning

Did they think he was a fool? Did they think their silly magic tricks would let him relinquish such a valuable asset? Say what they would about going three days into the desert to worship their God, they weren’t fooling him. Out of sight, and they would vanish faster than the morning dew in the desert air! He was Pharaoh, not some peasant to be taken in by a good story, and they were a race of slaves, born to serve. Without their labour, all his building projects would never get done. Why would he give away such a valuable asset? They might as well ask him to give away the River Nile, or the sun in the burning sky! But the River Nile knew its place and flowed between its banks, overflowing them once a year at just the right time so that the land of Egypt stayed fertile and prosperous. Certainly it had turned to blood that time, but that was just a magic trick, and, after all, it didn’t last. A bit unpleasant at the time, sure (ok, it was downright nasty) but no harm done in the long run. The Nile knew its place, and the blazing sun, Amun-Ra, knew his rightful place and stayed there, god though he was. Only this Moses, his brain obviously addled by too many years under the desert sun, kept coming back with this insane demand, “Let my people go!”

Yes, he had to admit it had been a bad year: locusts, hail, cattle plague, even that period of darkness which had terrified some of the priests and magicians and set them imagining all sorts of dreadful portents. Bad years happen. Hadn’t there been that time, way, way back in the mists of history, when they had famine for seven years? Terrible, yet Egypt had survived. He was Pharaoh, secure in his palace where no hurt could reach him. If a few peasants died, starved, suffered, well, that was the lot of peasants everywhere. He was tired of these Hebrews trying to gain credit for their futile cause from every misfortune that happened. If their God (who didn’t even seem to have a name or an image) were really so powerful, why would they be a race of slaves?

And now the latest news was that they had all been killing lambs from their flocks and painting blood on their doorways. What kind of slavish superstition was that? And so unhygienic! Actually, he’d better make a note to get the overseers to make them clean up before some sort of plague broke out among them. It would serve them right, of course, but he needed able-bodied slaves right now. Odd, wasn’t it, that none of those plaguey misfortunes that had racked Egypt lately seemed to have affected them?

It really was time he went to bed and stopped letting those slaves keep him from his rest. They really weren’t worth it! It must be nearly midnight. It was a mild night, he wandered out to the balcony, still unable to get them out of his head. And then, it was if a loud cry went out all over Egypt, as if some terrible calamity had happened in every home at once. And then, before he had time to begin to understand, a terrible keening cry rose up from within the palace, from the quarters of his eldest son, his beloved heir. What could possibly have happened?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Ministry of Poetry

We carry tears for those who cannot cry,
We walk the darkness where they dare not die,
And say aloud their secret question “why?”

We kneel before the beauty that transcends
Encouraging the faltering knee that bends,
Offering word-wings so the heart ascends.

We dare to look towards the heart of things
Reminding that here, too, the Spirit sings,
And faith gives feet to all our journeyings.

We keep the secret vigils of the heart,
And then, with fumbling words, try to impart
Our wordless wonder with our struggling art.

Our songs are prayers for those who cannot pray
We bring small candles where there is no day
Offering our feeble lights to show the way.

When all the tears are cried, the words are said,
And memory and meaning seem all fled,
We’ll sing the resurrection of the dead.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Song of Confession

Oh God of the shining face
Mystery of mysteries, whose love out-sings the cherubim,
Mercy of eternity
Bend your grace on me.

I have walked (as all men walk)
With stumbling steps
Tripping over myself
In the rush towards my folly
Bending my tears to your ears
Unheeding of your love song.

I have climbed the precipice of pride
And thought myself lifted,
Swum the ardent puddles of my self-deceit,
And imagined me a conqueror of oceans,
Closed my eyes and turned my head
To avoid the relentless demands
Of unbearable pity,
And blamed you for my pain.

I have failed to love you
You, you whose love first spun me into being
Who can balance the galaxies on a fingertip,
And wipe my smallest tear.
I have turned away
From the gratitude of stars
And the secret of forgiveness
Into a self-bound world,
Self on self bent backwards,
And the angels sang and I drowned it with cheap jokes.

I have kept my neighbour
At the safe and careful distance that propriety demands,
Leaving no blood on the carpets,
From the bloodless banal words
That displace our hearts.
And my name is Pharisee,
And my cheap gilt mirrors
Show a strangely leprous face
(It must be the light.)

God of the shining face,
Light which is life
Turn not your face
Lest I perish,
Utterly undone.
One life,
One death,
One Way,

And I give thanks.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Long Way

When you are leaving, you don’t realise that you may just be taking the longest route to get back home. But he was so aware of it now. The miles had seemed short and the road had promised so much on the day he walked out of his father’s house. Money and excitement had put t5he milestones close together, the air had been crisp, the sun shone brightly and there were no holes in his shoes. There had been fine wine to slake the dust of the road, and fine companions had been easily bought. The far country hadn’t seemed very far away at all!

But now it was different; so different that he would have been tempted to pinch himself to check its reality if several other parts of his body hadn’t ached so much. Odd really, since on this return journey he had nothing to carry except himself, a broken heart, and a massive sense of shame. But the road was dusty, the sun was hot, and the heat beat down on him remorselessly, like another weight to bear. His father’s house, that place of blessing and prosperity, seemed so very far away, as if every single step was climbing a great mountain.

And it was a mountain. Oh yes, the path was reasonably level, just the usual meanderings up and down hill, but the journey inside him was very different. He might have been leaving the place of his shame, but in doing so he was facing the reality of his shame, and discovering just how dark it was. It is a very steep climb to arise from the pigpen, knowing that you still carry it in your soul. The uncleanness had eaten into him, until there was no part of himself that was not corroded by disgrace. How could ever go back?

He had left in such high spirits, glad to cast aside the sober responsibilities of youth for the pleasures of self-indulgent carelessness. Only now did he realise that the ones who are free from care, and free from caring, are the very ones who should take the most care, for their path is very slippery. And he had slid down with the exhilaration of a mad child all the way to the bottom, into the pigpen of his misery. When a man gets to envying the very pigs for their food, there is not much lower he can go.

But he never made it the whole way home on those stone-bruised weary feet, for there was his father, rushing towards him as if he had to grab him fast before he could vanish again. But how could he look into those eyes? The light of love that beamed out of him was so terrible brightness served only to show his own darkness more clearly. He had to get the words out before he could turn and flees this terrifying forgiveness “Father I have sinned before Heaven and before you, I’m no longer worthy to be your son …”

But he never got all the words out. Everything he was, every wretched putrid sin that clung to him like a leper’s rags, was swept away by this relentless love. Before he knew what was happening, the robe was around his shoulders, the ring was on his hand, and the fatted calf was being led away to the slaughter. It was only then that he began to understand. Here at home, under the very roof where he was born, his father’s love had been waiting for him the whole time. But he had had to go via the far country to find it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The She-to-be

Far out beyond the waves of time
She sits and waits -- who is not yet,
Whose eyes shine like the purest stars,
Whose beauty I have never met.

Perfect in beauty, whole in trust,
Her eyes are never turned to me;
But fixed in joy upon the One
Who is her love’s entirety.

For Him the tattered broken tears,
For Him the struggle, even now,
For Him each ragged breath of pain --
Whose scarred hands shall en-crown her brow.

For Him .. for only what’s for Him
Shall be her own when she shall be
Entire at last; by His great love
Built from the broken shards of me.

Monday, May 04, 2015

No Longer Water

She knew he could do it, though she couldn’t explain how she knew. After all, he had never done anything like that before, and it wasn’t that she even had a clue exactly what it was that he could do about it. But, bone-deep and soul-certain, she knew it was a problem he could solve. And she knew that he cared. If there was one thing she was absolutely sure of, it was that if she cared about someone else’s pain and need, he cared infinitely more. It wasn’t that he did anything remarkable (well, not that kind of remarkable) or gave wild impassioned speeches, or any of the usual things you would expect, it was more that compassion, glorious, utter and complete, was the air that he breathed and the substance of his being. She had no words for such a thing, but her inmost spirit knew it and was often overwhelmed.

Yes, she knew he could do something, most of all because she knew, better than anyone else who was there, who he was. How could a mere thirty years blot out the memory of an angel, an impossible pregnancy, the fear and the shame, the wonder and the glory? He was from God, born as no other child on earth had ever been born, the child long-promised, the promise to-be-fulfilled. She loved him, she marvelled at him, she was totally confused by him. And now she must ask a favour of him, whether as mother to son, or as suppliant to one who was far above her.

She touched his arm and got his attention. “They have no wine,” she said.

They exchanged a look. “Woman, what does this have to do with me? It’s not my time yet.”

His words might have been reproachful, but she saw the dancing merriment in his eyes, and was unabashed. She slipped aside to the servants and instructed them to do whatever he asked, then drew aside to see what would happen. Sure enough he went over to the servants, and it was evident from their actions that he had asked them to refill the ceremonial jars with water. She wondered what he was doing.

They were huge jars, and it took a while to fill them. She hovered in the background, not wanting to get in the way, but too fascinated to turn aside. So she heard the moment when he instructed one of the servants to draw out some of the water and take it to the master of the feast. What?! And then she, and most of the rest of the room heard the master proclaim that this was the best wine, which, most unusually, had been kept till last!

Her eyes brimmed with tears of wonder. How? Why? But then, as she struggled to understand, the blurring of her tears resolved, just for a moment, into a vision of such solid clarity that she knew it was not of this world. It was another feast, far greater, far grander than anything she could have imagined. She could not see the face of the bride, who seemed to wear faces beyond number, but the face of the bridegroom was the face of her son, shining with a glory that broke her heart, and he was holding up a cup of wine. “Drink this,” he was saying.

Then her sight cleared and they were back in Cana. And she had no idea what it meant. But she treasured these things in her heart, and pondered them, until the day, much later, on the far side of agony, when their meaning became clear.