Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Beast

It was born into the world back near the beginning, when the man and the woman both turned away from Life. At first it was weak and tentative; its presence remained unknown until brother envied brother, and selfish rage fuelled the hand that rose and struck down the one had done well. Then it stood revealed, and its presence was accepted as inevitable. Soon it was stretching its power, and man after man, woman after woman, sooner or later became its lawful prey. There was only one jarring exception: the man called Enoch, who walked straight past it into the presence of God, and it could not lift so much as a claw against him. That was disconcerting, and troubling, implying a weakness in its absolute tyranny, but, as time passed and humanity expanded, that one anomaly was almost forgotten. There were no other exceptions, everybody else, however strong, wealthy or good, was forced, in the end to submit to it.

The centuries passed and it grew stronger and stronger, with more to feed upon, though there was a niggling sense of weariness even in its insatiable appetite. Flexing its muscles, feeding its hunger, it developed more and more weapons to use for its purposes: violence, famine, disease, flood, fire, foolish superstitions and corrupt religion which gave it little children and men and women at their finest strength offered up in useless sacrifice. Its favourite of all was war. When clan fought against clan, or, better still, nation fought against nation, men women and children were fed to the beast in such quantities that it was left marvelling that humanity could so hate itself! Oh yes, there was the strange anomaly of Elijah, so many centuries before, managed to bypass its claims, but what was one against so very, very many?

Then came the time that changed everything. It loved the Roman armies, for they fed it well, so well that it had no particular attention to spare for one more crucifixion in a small provincial town. But on that particular day, when that particular man died, and Death, the great Beast, took Him down into its jaws, something indescribable happened. This prey did not stay lifeless and limp in its jaws. Instead the hunter became the prey, the victim became the victor. In the darkness of the tomb, beyond the reach of human sight or understanding, cosmic battle was waged on mankind’s behalf by one who was a man, yet more than a man. And Death itself was defeated, the Beast was chained, its power broken.

What were Enoch and Elijah compared to this? They may have bypassed Death for themselves, but this man, this Christ, this illegitimate shabby Jewish teacher, had destroyed death in the very act of his dying, and offered freedom from the Beast for all mankind. Oh, until the last Act of the drama was played out, men’s bodies would still endure death. But his jaws held no more terror now, his gums were toothless. The Beast was now on a chain, and one day, very soon, the chain would be pulled in and the end would come. He was the Last Enemy, but one day every enemy would be conquered. Death would die, its death sentence had already been given in the court that could not be gainsaid. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

What the World Could not Give

She stood trembling at the edge of the room, knowing that if she did not soon gather her courage together, she never would. She was still half- hidden from sight standing by a pillar, a veiled woman standing in the shadows, retreating from the judgemental sight of men. She knew who she was, better than any of them did, and she knew what she had done: the sordid couplings that chased the illusion of glamour and excitement, but always fell short of what they promised, the descent into shame, and the terrible place she had found herself in, when glamour and illusion had departed, laughing scornfully at her as they fled, and she found herself alone, used, degraded, despised, and with no way of existence that did not involve even further degradation. There was no bitter name they could have called her that she had not already called herself. Shame was like an acid that had eaten into her bones and left her weak and incapable. Any movement of her will had simply led to more grating pain. It was easier to be numb, to be hardened, to live from one spitefully given coin to the next. Oh, the stories she could tell of some of the men right here in this room! But who would ever believe her testimony anyway?

But then she had seen Him, the Nazarene preacher, the man who was different. She had hidden herself at the edges of the crowd, and listened, again and again. It had not been easy. Sometimes she had needed to walk away for a while because his words had re-opened wounds which she thought had long since died. No one had ever told her how painfully hope can come to the hopeless. But she always came back for more; it was like learning to breathe clean air or drink sweet water.

And now she had come to the Pharisee’s house, because she knew he would be there, and she wanted him to know how his words had changed her. She fixed her eyes on him, and as she did, her fear of everyone else faded away. There were banqueters, and servants and as always, a heap of beggarly onlookers. But none of them mattered. There was only herself and Jesus. He looked up, looked her straight in the eye, and, overwhelmed by what she saw there, she ran straight to his feet. She pushed her veil out of the way, and fell sobbing at his feet, overcome by wonder and gratitude. She took out the little jar of perfume, the most valuable thing she owned, broke the seal and poured it out recklessly, prodigally, all over his feet. She wiped them with her own hair. She could the gasps of shock and outrage around the room, but she no longer cared what those hypocrites thought.  She looked up into his eyes, and it was as if the love she found there created a shield to protect her from their cruel judgement. The world could only offer her condemnation, but he had given her something far more precious. He had given her forgiveness.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Lighten our Darkness

Lighten our darkness oh Lord we pray, for we who bear your name can no longer see our way.
We have eaten from what you had forbidden, and we know ourselves to be naked and ashamed.
We are exiled from the garden, and our world is full of bitter weeds.
There is tempest and storm and terror, and we feel ourselves shipwrecked and your deeps rise up against us
We have followed your command to leave the comfortable and familiar, but we cannot discern where the place of Your promise lies
You have promised us an inheritance and a future, but we ache with our barrenness
We wrestle with you, aching to be a people of integrity, but our fears are our downfall
Lighten our darkness, oh Lord!

Lighten our darkness oh Lord we pray.
We groan under the shackles of slavery, and do not know how to protect our own from death.
We stand on holy ground, but cannot believe your calling
We see how your judgement falls, but alien gods have twisted their fingers in our souls.
You kept us dry as we walked through the terrible waters, but our hearts are still the hearts of slaves.
We have trembled before the thunder of your commands, and are afraid to come too close to you.
We would rather worship the work of our own hands.
We have stepped back at the moment when you called us forwards, because our wilderness, whilst bitter, is safe and familiar.
Lighten our darkness, oh Lord!

Lighten our darkness, oh Lord we pray!
We have seen your victory, and rejoiced, but grew weary of the battle before the job was done.
Whenever we were not inspired, we returned to the old ways and the old habits, and were helpless to defend ourselves from oppression.
We wanted to look like everyone else around us, and your kingship was too high for us, so we made ourselves subject to the rulership of men.
We judge by outward appearance, and do not look upon the heart
We can be so faith-filled one minute, and fall prey to our most egregious appetites the next, and power and privilege are so quickly our corruption
We build your temple while our hearts are wandering away
Lighten our darkness oh Lord!

Lighten our darkness oh Lord we pray!
We all claim to be yours, but so easily divide between ourselves.
We follow corrupt leadership, because they offer us an easier way.
We find ourselves in exile from your promise, and do not believe you could have let this happen.
Only your angels stand between ourselves and ravening persecution
And when we return to the place we left, it seems a poor restoration, for the place itself has been defiled and diminished.
We strive to keep your law, and harden our hearts against each other in the process
We harden our hearts against you and do not even know what we have done.
We are proud to have put away our idols, and cannot see that we worship our  own piety.
Lighten our darkness oh Lord!

Lighten our darkness oh Lord we pray!
We need your deliverance, for we cannot redeem ourselves.
Unless you take our part, unless you take our place, we will never find your peace.
We wait for your redemption, for you are our redeemer
We hunger for that city which needs neither sun nor moon, for you, yourself are its light
We hunger for you, our only hope, our only way, our only truth, our only life.

Lighten our darkness oh Lord!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Safe Haven

Pursued by both fear and failure, he climbed over the next hill (was there no end to this wilderness?), and saw, to his great relief, that there was a well up ahead. Not till this moment had he dared admit to himself just how tired and thirsty he felt. Speed had been the imperative, to get out of Egypt before Pharaoh’s soldiers caught up with him. But they wouldn’t follow him here. He was far enough from the border’s now, even by the standards of his own fear, to know that no pursuit would follow him this far. Besides, by tomorrow, someone else would have claimed the focus of Pharaoh’s anger, and he would be forgotten about unless he drew someone’s attention to his existence. He wondered how, if at all, his own family would remember him? With his privileged upbringing in the palace, he had never really been one of them. His own riches and comfort had been a source of awkwardness whenever he visited them. He had wanted so badly to prove that he was one of them, that he cared. He had wanted to use his privilege to help his own people in their terrible bondage, but all he had succeeded in was a mean little murder and his own subsequent flight. He down near the well, in what shade he could find, and surrendered to his despondency.

He was startled into awareness by the sound of some young women bringing their flocks to be watered. For a moment he thought of revealing himself to them, but he was unsure of his reception, and stayed where he was. But no sooner had they settled to their task, drawing up water for the troughs the animals drank from than another group of shepherds turned up and drove them back, pushing them out of the way so that they could go first. The empty wilderness was becoming a very busy place!

This was too much for Moses! The same sense of justice which had got him into trouble in Egypt compelled him forward in the girls’ defence. The shepherds, who had been happy to bully a group of women, subsided quickly at the sight of one angry man, and let the delighted women complete their task, with his assistance. Then, while the girls returned to their father’s house, Moses sat down again and wondered which way he should go next.

But then the girls returned to invite him back to their home. Their father welcomed him with gladness, and, in the fullness of time, gave him one of his daughters in marriage. Moses had found a safe haven, a place where he could live and raise a family, telling himself that it was foolishness to expect to be something more than other men. He did not know then that after forty years he would be summoned back from these desert places that were breaking and remaking him, to walk back into the palace of a new Pharaoh, and to be caught up in a far more glorious unfolding of his people’s liberation and redemption than any he could have imagined on his own.

Monday, October 13, 2014


I taste again my yesterdays
In the thin-lipped silence
Of the scream that dares not speak.

Is this why I so love thunder?

Yesterdays’ flavour
Was the flavour of stale crumbs,
Half-worm in the tomato,
My shriek all out of place.

True, there were dramas,
Improbable teacup storms,
And I the bridge laid down to harmony –
As if peace were my gift!

But mostly silence:
A grey, tight lid slammed down across our days,
To hide all things,
And hide them from ourselves.

When clarity came
It shattered teacups
Till the storms all drained away:
The monster in the depths laid bare

Shrinking before the light.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Seeing it differently

He had always known that his friends were wrong, but now he knew that, though his first judgement had been right, it had been right for the wrong reasons. He had been seeing the whole situation through the lens of his own righteousness, his own non-deserving of punishment. It shocked him – no, totally unmanned him – to realise that a man could be right for the exact wrong reasons, and that a man could seek God earnestly all his days, and earnestly strive to be pleasing to Him, and fulfil all His commands, and yet … and yet … totally misconstrue who God was and what it meant to serve and worship Him.
He had always been a careful man, a scrupulous man, the very definition of ‘God-fearing’. Only now could he see the irony of it all: that he had feared God in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons, precisely because he had cut his image of God from the cloth of his own being, that he, who had sought in all things to walk in excruciating humility so as to cause no affront by effrontery, had had the ridiculous arrogance to imagine that his human understanding could define all that God was!

It was strange though, wasn’t it, that he could see the ridiculous flaws in the understanding of those friends who had sought so hard to correct his theology and show him the error of his thinking, yet could not see the inadequacy of his own thinking. The same moral fearfulness that had always made him so conscientious had served as his defence against their accusations – had he not always searched his heart and life for hidden sin, had he not always made pre-emptive sacrifices against any possible sin of his children? And now, in his hour of tragedy, when they could find no better comfort to bring him than their blazing certainty that he must have committed some grave sin for God to punish him so severely, he knew they must be wrong. But their questions only added to his torment, and his abiding sense of injustice.

Then the Lord came, fierce and terrible in the mighty storm, and spoke the words that shattered, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Have you given orders to the morning? Have the gates of death been shown to you? What is the way to the abode of light?” On and on the relentless questions came, until he no longer sought to protect himself from them, but instead was lifted into the grand vision, the vast glory of God’s purpose and design. How had he ever imagined that his words were enough? It was not that they were wrong, it was that they were so woefully inadequate, because his concept of God, a rumour and a theory, was so much less than even the edge of the wonderful reality.

There was only one possible, trembling reply, “I had heard of you with the hearing of my ears, but now my eyes see you, and I repent in dust and ashes.”

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Scapegoat

The living breath is ragged in his throat,
His legs are tense, not knowing where to run,
Or which way fear will come. His strength is spent
And yet his walking death is scarce begun.

Driven away from safe familiar fields
Driven away from any shepherd’s care
No more sweet grass is offered to his lips
He must find food where all is scant and bare.

This is the realm of jackal and of owl
The haunting absences, the empty sere,
A desolation fully destitute
Where every stone and rock will whisper “fear…”

Driven, unshriven, under a fierce sky,
Lost in a land that breathes no kindliness,
How can he know – poor, dumb and suffering beast –

That God’s own self shall walk this wilderness?