Monday, September 15, 2014

The Patriot

It would have been so much easier to pretend that she knew nothing, that she cared nothing, to sink into the life of a pampered princess, enjoy all the privileges of being Queen of Persia, and let her heart and soul wither and wilt. After all, what could she do? She was a young woman in a world of warriors and intricate power politics and her position and safety were totally dependent on the whims of a king who had already shown himself to be very quick to discard a queen who failed to gratify his every whim with blind subservience. She was, in her own way, despite the silks and golden dishes, the perfumed gardens, and the servants trained to fetch whatever she should desire, more trapped than the poorest free citizen of the empire. Life i8 the harem was a life of cushioned slavery.

But her cousin’s words haunted her. Partly it was the warning: her safety was not guaranteed. If the King, under Haman’s evil influence, had issued a decree (the unalterable law of the Medes and Persians) that all Jews in the realm were to be destroyed on a certain day, then surely some enemy would betray her (and a palace was full of enemies, whether one was aware of them or not). All men live under the shadow of death, all our safety is but a temporary respite from the inevitable. She was more deeply affected by his assurance that God would raise up a Deliverer; from the cradle her uncle had taught her the history of her people: the history of sin, fall, and deliverance played out over and over again. The promises to Abraham still stood; his seed would not be obliterated from the earth.  All of that was truest truth.

But what stirred her very soul, and demolished the illusion of peace she had tried to find rest in were the final words of his message: “who knows but that you have come to royal position for a time such as this?” Her elevation had always seemed the most extraordinary thing to her, despite her cousin’s confidence. She was not the only pretty girl in the world. But what if he were right? What if God had given her this privilege and status just so that she could intervene at this crucial moment (which only God had known would take place) to protect her people, God’s people? What if it was not about an easy life for Esther, but about preserving the race through whom salvation would one day come? What if????

There was only one way to find out, she would have to put the King’s favour to the test. If she approached him and he did not extend his sceptre, it was death, but death was only a heartbeat away anyway. And if he extended his sceptre and gave favour to her plans, then she would have the opportunity, in the right time and place, to make her plea, and the lives of many of her own people could be saved. Put that way, the choice was no choice at all. Tremblingly, prayerfully, she prepared herself to face the king.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Wonder (noli me tangere)

You cannot hold fast to beauty.
It trickles like fine dust between your fingers,
Leaving a sparkle behind.
Like water
Over, into, through us …
We thirst again, but ah! we have been washed.

You might as well catch moonbeams,
Or ride the moment’s breeze into eternity,
Or hold one sweetness lasting on your tongue ..
So we mourn mortality.

We have lived enough to see things fade and falter,
To see bright sunrise dim to plodding day,
To know that tears will dry and laughter fail,
To know so much is fleeting, swift and gone!
To know no hands can hold or flesh contain.
To mourn our weakness.

Yet there is place beyond our hemmed in sky
Where all things lovely rest, and do not die.

And there is grace, and there is place enough –
Oh touch it not! Our clinging hands destroy.
It must ascend and to our Father go
While we sip glory’s drops and wait below.

We wait.

On stiffened knees we wait below. 

Monday, September 01, 2014


During her empty, tear-washed days the small betrayals tormented her mind the most, wriggling through her waking thoughts like worms piercing tunnels through the soil. She felt as if everyone around her had let her down, and her father most of all. How could he fail to protect her? How could he fail to bring down the full weight of justice and its consequences on the man who had violated her? As King, should he not uphold the law of God against a man who raped a virgin daughter of Israel? As a father, should he not support and love his ravaged daughter, giving her back the worth that had so wickedly been stolen from her? She could only conclude that a son was w9orth so much more to him than a daughter; that he saw her as being as worthless as Amnon had made her feel. Oh yes, reports said that David was very angry when he heard what her brother had done to her, but since he did nothing about it she wasn’t sure what his anger was about, or who he was really angry with, and her wretchedness increased. If her own father would not speak healing into her life, or defend her honour as his own, then desolation was all that she had.

It was when she lay on her bed at night, and tossed and turned, longing for the respite of sleep, yet fearing the terrors that returned in her dreams, that the huge betrayal came back to overwhelm her, so that she struggled to breathe as if his hand was still weighing down upon her face to stifle her screams, and her body spasmed in pain as if his violation tore her all over again. The whole bitter sequence of his deception, mindless lust and then furious rejection of her played itself out over and over in her mind. In what way had he not harmed and dishonoured her? In what way had he not treated her, a princess of Israel, his own half-sister, more despicably than the Law allowed him to treat the meanest slave girl? He had gone to so much trouble to gain access to her – feigning illness, demanding that she cook for him, and that nothing less than food from her own hands would cure him (and she blamed herself bitterly for not being suspicious at this point – but did her na├»ve pleasure in his attention really make her deserving of what he did?), demanding that all others leve the room and she feed him alone in his own bedroom (why, oh why didn’t she, or someone else say that this was ridiculous and unnecessary? Was everyone afraid to say ‘no’ to a prince who had been denied nothing all his born days? But then, why should anyone expect such actions from a man who seemed so ill?) and then, despite her vehement protestations, the rape that would haunt her dreams as long as she drew breath. Then came the final, most cutting, humiliation of all: having desired her so fervently, against all reason, decency or sense, once he had sated his lust he now despised her as passionately as he had wanted her, and had her flung from rooms in disgusted repudiation.

She had been betrayed, her very identity as a princess of Israel had been stolen from her, forever. Tamar sat alone and wept, and no one offered her consolation. No one stood by her to tell her that the God of Israel was a Father who would never fail her, that the Redeemer of Israel cared so much that He would one day come and be broken Himself so that Life and justice could be restored.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Inheritance

It was time. God had spoken and the hour had finally come when they would start walking into their inheritance. Yes, they would have to fight for it, but what should that matter if the Lord Himself was fighting for them? Victory was as certain as the rising and the setting of the sun each day, for, after all, it was the One who had set the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night, who had set the stars in their places and appointed times and seasons, it was this same God who had spoken to him and told him that he would lead these people to inherit the land. When god spoke, the world came into being; when God spoke the descendants of Abraham would inherit the land.

But tonight was a night for memories, for he knew that what he was about to do was part of a story that had started long before he was born and that would continue long after he was gone, which would include his children’s childrens’ children for untold generations. It had started when God had called out childless Father Abraham from the land of the pagans, called him out to be the father of a great nation (though his wife was barren) and to inherit a land which he had never seen. Eventually he had a child, Isaac, but the only portion of the land which he ever owned was the grave plot of his wife. Isaac, and, after him, his son Jacob, and then Jacob’s twelve sons had been sojourners in the land, until the famine had led to their relocation to Egypt, where Jacob’s son Joseph had been sent by God before them to prepare the way. And there the descendants of Abraham had flourished until Pharaoh grew so afraid of their numbers that he enslaved them, until the cries of their oppression went up to God, and in the fullness of time He sent them Moses, the Deliverer.

And this was where Joshua’s own story had begun. He had been one of that nation of liberated slaves who had followed Moses after the fatal night of the Passover, and experienced the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, and stood at the foot of Sinai, where God called them to be a nation set apart, holy to Himself. He knew that God was the Almighty Redeemer of His people. So he had been thrilled when he was chosen as one of the twelve spies to go and find out about the land they had been promised.

That was when he discovered that most of his fellow spies (in fact all of them except faithful, courageous Caleb) still had the hearts of slaves. Their bodies may have been rescued from Egypt, but they still carried the oppressor’s yoke in their hearts, believing themselves helpless and refusing to take hold of the freedom God had given them. Where he and Caleb saw amazing richness, a land flowing with milk and honey, they saw only insurmountable difficulties. They were too afraid to take hold of the inheritance God was giving them.

And so the Lord waited forty years for a new generation to arise, a generation born in freedom and dependent on their God. These were the people Joshua was about to lead into the Promised Land, so that they might claim their inheritance at last.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Learning love

As the thirsty ground lies open to the rain,
So I stand, unclosed,
Vulnerable and willing
Offering my heart.

As I stretch my too-tight body
Against the cramps of life
So I relax into love
And the knotted places smooth.

As I sing to myself in the daily tasks of life
So may we sing together
Not harmony,
But counterpoint.

As my breath catches
At the world’s sharp beauty,
So I see your glory,
Amazed into gratitude.

As I learn to pray,
Halting between dust and wonder,
So I hold you fast

In the breathing of my soul.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Reflections on Luke: 1:1 - 4

This is the first post of a long-term project: I want to work my way through the whole of Luke's gospel, passage by passage, as a set of reflective poems -- not a theological commentary, per se, but as a set of personal responses. Some will be direct reflections on the text, others will be my own reactions to the text. Anyway, I will doubtless refine the project further in the writing of it!

So here is the first, based on the first 4 verses:

1: 1 - 4

Most excellent Theophilus, I write
A full account, most structured and most sound,
Of a particular man, a known place,
In a particular world, the world you know,
And it shall blow that world to smithereens.

You wanted facts? Dear Sir, I give you facts:
Of miracles, of wonder and of awe.
The lame that walk, the blind receive their sight,
The deaf now hear, the very lepers cleansed,
The broken and forgotten are set free,
And death, yes death itself, is overcome!

Is that enough? Then Sir, I give you more,
(And all checked out most very carefully):
And I will talk of angels and of songs,
And wisdom that did not come from this world,
And teaching that would melt a heart of stone,
If stones had ears, and, through these careful words,
A scholar’s words, the facts, Sir, just the facts,
I pray that you will see the face of God.

I pray that you will see what I have seen,
That you will see the glory that I know,
And taste, with tears, the wonder and the joy,
The mercy and the promise and the love:
See God Himself come down as mortal man
And make a way for man to come to God.

My dear Theophilus, meet Jesus Christ!

Monday, August 04, 2014

A Time to Die

He climbed slowly up the mountain, knowing it was the last mountain he would ever climb. And there had been so many, so much climbing. Long ago there had been the slight hills of Egypt, where one had stood to watch the slaves labouring away on Pharaoh’s latest crazy building project. There had been the steep places he had crossed when he fled Egypt, and the hill he had just come over when he saw, ahead of him, the bush that burned but was not consumed. He often pondered that bush, seeking to understand the mind of God through the symbols He used to communicate. Only now did he wonder if perhaps he himself was perhaps that bush – inhabited by the very glory of God, and driven by Him to actions he himself would never have imagined, nor thought himself able to accomplish, and yet, never eaten away by that inhabiting glory. He remained himself, whatever mighty wind the Lord breathed through him, and that, in itself was a marvel, utterly different from man-made explanations of the way gods worked.

There was the hill, too, where he had stood above the battle against the Amalekites with his hands raised in prayer, until he grew so weary that Aaron and Hur had to hold his hands up for him. And the Israelites, led by Joshua, had prevailed, because his prayers had prevailed. And now he felt the weariness of his approaching end, and with it a great peace. There would be no more battles, and no more mountains, it was Joshua’s turn now to lead the free children of slaves into the glory of the promise, to fight against all kinds of evil and teach them to follow the God who called them home. Once it had hurt him terribly to know that, by his presumption, he had forfeited his own right to enter the Promised Land, but now he no longer minded.  He had done his part, and it was enough, and now, once more, he could be alone with the God who had called him. The Promised Land was precious, but he had met with the One who gave the Promise, who was, in Himself, the fulfilment and meaning of every good promise that had ever been made. It was time to move from the symbols and the tokens into the True Reality, and, step by step, as he climbed, he felt as i9f his heart was making its own pilgrimage back home. It was time to be done with the busyness and clamour.

And he thought then, of the greatest mountain he had climbed, more times than he could now remember, Sinai, where, while the people below him trembled in terror, he had walked up into the very presence of God. Even now he had no words for that encounter, only a memory of such glory that all his tears were turned to rainbows, the sign of God’s mercy to man. He had walked with God, and in the tent of meeting he had talked with God face to face, as a man talks to his friend. And now there was no terror in the approach of death, it was no harder than walking to a friend’s house and accepting their hospitality contented gratitude. God would take care of the rest