Monday, January 15, 2018

Through the years ...


The old man stood up before the people for the very last time, and looked at their upturned faces. They all seemed so very young; the doubters and refusers, the ones who thought like slaves and had no faith or courage were gone now, and the time of their wandering was drawing to an end. Soon now they would be entering the land promised to Abraham, the land flowing with milk and honey, but he would not be among them. It was almost time to climb his last mountain, to be done with the problems and pains of this world and enter into God’s rest. This was his last time to speak to their hearts and awaken them to the wonder of the God who held them in the hollow of his hand.

He began by reminding them of their history. God had redeemed them from the land of slavery and brought them to an appointed meeting with himself at Sinai, where he had entered into covenant with them. He would be their God and they would be his people: a nation of priests and a holy nation. But how quickly they had rebelled against the very one who saved them. Given the chance to enter the land of promise, they had refused from fear. Did they who had walked through the parted waters and escaped the wrath of Egypt not believe that the same God could give them victory over Canaan? So began their wandering years, homeless and stateless, yet still God held them fast.

Look at the evidence:
Through the years, God had given them victory over the nations that took up arms against them.
Through the years, neither God’s commandments nor his covenant had changed. He was the same God, all-powerful and all-holy, and he was still calling them into relationship with himself.
Through the years he had still poured out on them the blessings promised to Abraham, and they had flourished and increased until their numbers were like the stars in the sky or the grains of the sand.
Through the years he led them safely through the harshness of the empty lands.
Through the years he fed them with the miraculous bread from heaven, and taught them that man’s truest hunger is for the very words of God.
Through the years (all those years!) their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell from walking.
Through the years he had kept them and blessed them, but would they forget the God of their fathers when they were settled and comfortable like all the other nations?

He looked out across them earnestly and prayed that his words would impress them enough to keep them following and worshipping aright. He would give the law again to this new generation, but first there was one thing he really wanted to make clear. How terrible it would be if they thought it was their own greatness that had got them there!

“God did not set his affection upon you because you were such a great people. You were the least. No, it was because the Lord loved you, and because he made a promise to your forefathers, that he is bringing you to the place of abundance.”

He hoped that some of them would truly understand.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Anniversary

Let me place this ring of stars
On the finger of your soul.
Let me show you the moon tonight,
Soft in its silver promise.
Let us laugh together
With the little lapping waves
Rejoicing in our smallness.

Let us trace the path of our years across the sky
Through light and darkness,
The relentless pull of entropy,
And the pinpricks that unsettle.
Let us refuse to be afraid.

Let us ache for the loneliness
That is part of all things human,
Then reach out and touch
Until the divisive galaxies are nothing,
Nothing more,
Than the cobblestones our love must walk across.

Let us taste our names again
In each other’s mouths
Remembering
The centuries of kindness
That have woven us together.

Because our hope
Has always been
So far beyond ourselves.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Cry out oh dust!

Take up your cry, oh dust!
Cry to the sky!
Wonder must be, must be,
Nought can belie.
Let no dust silent lie!

Praise him you winds that ruffle meadows,
Praise!
Breath, breeze and hurricane
A chorus raise.
Sing out the glory that his touch displays!

Sing waters, sing for joy,
Each ripple sing!
Waves of the winding world
Rejoicing ring
Life-giving presence, touching everything!

Delight yourselves, oh flowers,
Take delight!
Passing through bitter winter,
Darkest night,
Grace blossoms in plain sight.

Stars, planets, dance in orbit:
Dance, oh, dance!
In all your ordered movements show
The great romance.
Nothing became by chance.

Oh heart bow down in worship,
Kneel, oh, kneel,
His praise your heart your joy,
All that you feel,
Given to him, his mercy to reveal!


Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The Man in the Middle

I was not prepared for this, but then, when I think it over, what could have been done to prepare me? There is no course of study at the synagogue, no training in advanced theology or worldly know-how that could have prepared me, simply because I am, in all the history that I know, the only man ever in all the world to be required to take on this task. There was nobody who could have advised me or mentored me through this. It was my love for Mary, and her need of me, that kept me going through the worst moments of bewilderment and confusion.

I am the most ordinary of men, a carpenter with just the basic education that all Jewish men have. I can read and write, I know enough about numbers to calculate how much wood I need for a task and how much to charge for my labour (though if someone is poor and desperate I will always charge them less).  I know the Law of Moses about as well as most men of my social class, but I don’t pretend to understand some of the things that the lawyers argue about. Surely if god means ordinary people to obey him then he tells them what is required in ordinary words, not secret meanings hidden behind and between the things he actually said? But what do I know? I am a plain man who planes wood for a living, who tries to honour God in everyday things and do justly to my fellow man. And I fell in love with a young woman named Mary, whose wise eyes and soft smile turned my whole life inside out.

It was a terrible shock when she told me she was with child, for I knew the child wasn’t mine. The kindest thing I could think was that too much dreaming had made her mad, and some passing stranger had taken advantage of her state. But there was no sign of madness in her steady gaze or her simple words, and I was very much confused.

And I was not prepared to deal with angels. That is a matter for great heroes, not Joseph ben Jacob from the forgettable town of Nazareth. Yet in a vision of the night, clear and powerful like no ordinary dream could ever be, the angel of the Lord came to me and confirmed every word that Mary had spoken. This was no ordinary child, this was the Messiah of God, begotten by a miracle I cannot understand.

I am not sure what I was thinking in the daze of those months, as I quietly married Mary and organised that crazy, gruelling trip to Bethlehem, just doing what I must, one foot in front of the other, but not coming to her as a husband comes to a wife, for until the child was delivered, her body was a sacred vessel, dedicated to the service of God. But I think that I half-expected the child to spring from her body like an armed warrior ready for battle. How little I knew, how little I understood. Day after day I cried out to God to relieve me of this heavy task, and day after day he reminded me that I was the only man who could do it, for I was the man who loved Mary, and guarded her child. It was enough, more than enough. I will leave the great heroic deeds to other people, and simply go on loving Mary.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Geographer's Lament

I cannot count the countries of the world
Shifting and changing in political tornadoes.
Nations come and go in bewildering procession
And the map is not the one I learned at school.

Nor can I count the inner countries.
The heart’s geography erodes,
Solidifies,
And endures the occasional tsunami.
Rivers of tears have watered my deserts,
And turned them to fecundity.
Here and there lie peninsulas
Which refuse to submit to boundaries,
(And fences have a way of breaking down).
Unexplored islands lie in raging seas
Awaiting the halcyon days
(Or so I think, or well, at least suspect).
I have built the occasional bridge,
I have weathered seasons,
Even climbed some hills, for a clearer view.
But even if I know their shapes,
I hardly know their names;
And the lingering fear is still:
Have I got it wrong?

Then I remember
I was always better at History.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Rembrandt's Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul



Here is no thunder of the lawyer’s stance
This is not doctrine bound in bone and blood
This is a man torn from his chosen path
This is a man undone by his own God.

Spirit shine forth! See, through an old man’s eyes
That his own weakness is Your strength sublime;
The fellowship of suffering opens joy,
And our mortality’s the fool of time.

The man who nails his heart to Christ’s own cross
Needs no more pride, needs not the praise of man;
It is enough to know that he is safe
Held fast forever in God’s nail-pierced hand.

It is enough to know that God is God
And Jesus, crucified, now reigns above,
Enough to rest on faith, to rest on hope
And know the greatest of all things is love

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Alien Music

I do not know the sweet songs of these people
Or the sharp songs
Beating to a harder rhythm
To scour the soul with anger’s oblivion.
I have not grieved their griefs.

I have not moved my feet
To the beat
Staccato and inverted
Then turned right way up
A moment,
Then to plunge to places
I cannot follow
By body or by mind.

The things that soothe them
Do not sustain me,
I find no comfort there,
Having already more than in their wildest dreams,
Their dreams cut like my nightmares,
I have not walked that country of small hopes.

The things that whisper
In my deepest night
Cannot speak their language,
And,
Shamed by my own plenty,
I learn at last to weep.