Thursday, May 26, 2016

Two hundred and three million

Two Hundred and three million
(the number of victims of genocide in the 20th Century)

Two hundred and three million
And our tears are turned to ash,
Scattered by dry winds.

There was a time they laughed,
Looked at the sky,
Tasted music in the wind,
And touched with love.
There was a time their stumbling tongues
Learned speech; their stumbling legs
Learned to walk, run, hop, skip,
To dance … to dance …
Till all the dancing stopped,
The walls went up,
The blade came down,
The shots spun through the dark:
Denied itself again.

Take up your tears,
Two hundred and three million
Have scarcely stirred the dust on barren graves,
The pitiless dust on barren, silent graves,
One drop for each is more than we can spare.
In a world gone mad with madness,
Who will dare
Name the unnameable,
Take up the mirror,
(The one that does not glow with rose-pink light,
Or Hollywood halos flashing)
To show our social garments of compassion
For the rude rags that deck our empty hearts.

Let the wind take up their cry.
Let the earth blench with shame to have covered such a burden.
Let the songbirds cease their songs.
Let the flowers hesitate to bloom
Let the angels of heaven stand in the places where we failed to.

Let there be light,
Remorseless light –
Blaze into our darkness
Till the excuses die upon our tongues.

“Any man’s death diminishes me”

We have hardened our hearts
Lest the knowledge break us.
We have turned away our faces
Lest we see they look like us.

We have clasped our hands behind our backs
Afraid of driving nails,
Afraid of life, afraid of human blood,
Afraid of being vulnerable like them.

I cannot pretend to walk
With the burning compassion of the angels.
It is easy not to care.

Two hundred and three million had no choice.

Two hundred and three million call my name.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

In the Name

They knew they had done nothing wrong. In fact, it was a work of mercy of the highest order, the very sort that their Master used to do. Now they would continue, for His sake and in His name. But they also knew exactly why they had been arrested – because they had done this act of healing in the name of the One whom the priestly party had condemned to death with agitated ferocity.

It had been a completely spontaneous response. A crippled beggar had asked for money, but they had none to give, so they had given what they could. “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I will give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And the man had done just that, jumping up and putting the new-found strength in his legs through its paces, all the while praising god for this miraculous gift.

And the crowd was astounded. The ripples of attention spread out rapidly as the immediate witnesses told others what had just happened. “Did you see that?” they said to one another, and soon everyone was thronging around to see for themselves, for the crippled beggar was well-known. An explanation was in order, and Peter and John were only too happy to give it. The very Jesus who had been handed over to death by the people of Jerusalem, was the one whom God had raised from the dead, and they were His witnesses to proclaim this wonder to the world. And men believed.

But the priestly council, the same people who had bribed the soldiers to cover up the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, were not pleased at all, so they had arrested  and imprisoned Peter and John, and now they were going to question them. “By what power or name did you do this?”

It was the crucial question, and the answer was the resurrected Jesus, the same person whom these very men, gathered here, had condemned to death and turned over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. And now they had the opportunity to preach of their Christ to the ones who were his murderers. Peter did not hesitate. He had met the risen Lord, he had been filled, changed and renewed by the Holy Spirit. He was no longer the one who had denied his Master three times before the cock crowed twice on that fateful night.  In the name of Jesus, their crucified and risen Lord, they had raised a crippled beggar to walk on his own strong legs, to the praise and glory of God. There was, after all, no other name under heaven by which men might be saved.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

To the Shadow

Yes, we have touched, have met
In the woods where we passed
There, when the sun grew cold
And blight lay on the grass.

I heard you in the trees,
The wind betrayed your course.
I had no energy
To trace you to your source

There, while the morning burned,
I was a flattened thing
Laid low with so much ease
By the brush of your wing.

I am so very small,
You, a monstrosity,
Mighty to shake my world,
Mighty to fall on me.

Yet I know all that tale
Which you would not have told,
Of your triumphant day
When sun and moon grew cold.

Oh, it was all a lie,
Your famous victory –
It took one empty tomb
To crush you utterly.

You still breathe venomed breath
Where paths grow hard and grim;
Yet you are dead, oh death!
All is restored in Him.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

For Good Friday

As the bird shelters nestlings
In the shadow of its wing
Whatever storm may rage,
So you have sheltered me
In the shadow of the cross
And the worst has not come nigh me.

Sometimes I almost sense
The thud of hammer strokes,
Unimaginable tear of flesh,
The scream of worlds unmaking,
And I turn my head away
That the worst may not come nigh me.

Sometimes I almost sense
The blood-lust of the crowd
(It is not so far away)
Where justice bends to evil
And the social contract shreds:
May the worst still not come nigh me!

Sometimes I almost sense
The bright, clean light depart,
Dark where dark should not be
Swallowing friendly stars,
With death’s entirety
And the worst has not come nigh me.

Sometimes I almost sense
The mockery that kills,
The laughter born in hell
That splinters like cruel glass
And stabs with poisoned stroke,
But the worst has not come nigh me.
I climb again that hill
Standing aloof from time
Trying to face those wounds
Which should have all been mine.
I cannot hold them fast,
No longer mine to bear,
All that I see is love,
Love that is everywhere.
All that I see is you,
Welcome upon your face,
Under that crown of thorns
Shines such transcendent grace,
No portioning of blame,
No tallying of sin,
Only your arms stretched wide
To take a whole world in.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Servants

What does a servant do when the Master is absent? A faithful servant follows the Masters instructions, and waits for his return. And so they waited, and they prayed. The sense of expectation was heavy in the air. It wasn’t at all like the Master’s last absence. That time, brief though it was, had been the nadir of their lives. He died, and it was as if they tasted his death in their own beings – the death of hope, the death of meaning, the death of laughter, the death of love. In their loss of him they had tasted, though they hardly had words to name it, the death of their God.

But the darkness was over and the morning had come, the fairest since that time when the morning stars had sung together. Death itself had been overcome, and though they understood that they would never walk with him and talk with him in the same old way again, they also knew that they would be with him forever. He had only gone on ahead. And he had not left them as orphans, he was sending them Another, the indwelling Spirit, and he would be with them soon. They waited now in joy, not terrified grief.

And so the servants waited. They were not sure what to expect. They had the old stories, to be sure, of what the Spirit had done in the past, but they knew that this was supposed to be different, that it would be something that had never happened before in the history of the world. And so they wondered. They waited, they wondered and they prayed.

And the Spirit came to them on the Day of Pentecost, with a sound like a mighty rushing wind coming down to them from heaven, and it seemed that the whole house was filled with it. And, as they watched each other, amazed, it seemed that there was fire too, which separated into individual tongues of flame, resting on each person. Their hearts were full, their courage was set aflame with love that cast out fear, and their tongues were loosed into new languages, as if Babel had never happened. For when Babel was built among men they had sought to raise themselves up, but now God had come down, and fierce was the joy of that hour. Once, on Sinai, there had been flame and rumblings and smoke, and a thick darkness where God was, and Israel, constituted as a nation in that hour, had been shaken in terror. Now, as the church came into being, the servants were filled with wonder.

And the servants were released to serve in a whole new way. A short few weeks before, they had cowered in immobilising fear, now they came forth, borne by the power of God to speak words of world-shattering truth. Their waiting was over.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Humble Beginning

They never gave him a thought. He was the runt of the family, little thought of, little cared for: a grubby kid whose only possible worth to the family was to send him out to watch the sheep. He did seem to be reasonably capable of that, despite his dreaminess and his tendency to want to sit and make up music all day. What use to the family was that? A boy like that needed to be constantly put in his place lest he start imagining he was somebody special. And when they muttered to each other in annoyance, his older brothers never gave a passing thought to another younger brother, centuries before, whose older brothers, irritated beyond measure, had sold him into slavery.  That boy, Joseph, had risen to be above them all, but what of that? After all, these brothers had no intention of treating the kid that way. Out of sight was out of mind.

So when the prophet came to visit they scrubbed up, dressed up, and went nervously out to greet him. What was their little town to warrant such attention? What did Samuel (or, more alarmingly, Samuel’s God) want with them? It wasn’t a comfortable meeting, and they never gave a thought to that uppity kid as they organised themselves. Their father, Jesse, was one of the elders of the town, so they were present when Samuel was greeted. He assured them that he had come in peace and only wanted to offer a sacrifice. He invited them to consecrate themselves and attend. The brothers felt honoured to be included, and even more honoured when the prophet asked their father to present them to him, one by one. But as each of the seven was presented, the prophet searched their faces as if he was trying to see into the deepest parts of their hidden selves. There was a sense, a very disturbing sense, that he was looking for something that wasn’t there, that these brothers, handsome and tall in the prime of their young manhood, lacked something important.

The prophet said nothing, however, until he had inspected all seven, then he turned to Jesse and said, “The Lord has not chosen these.” There was an awkward silence while each wondered what it was that he had failed. Then Samuel continued, “are these here all of your sons?”

Jesse was startled, but he knew better than to lie to a prophet of God. “No,” he said slowly, “there is another one, but he’s out in the fields with the sheep.”

Samuel ordered him to send for the boy. “We will not sit down until he comes,” he said.

So they sent for the boy, David, and when he came in, to their immense astonishment, Samuel rose up, took his horn of oil and anointed the boy. The brothers didn’t dare catch each other’s eyes. What did this mean? But before they could gather their wits to find a way to ask, Samuel had risen up and gone on his way back to Ramah where he lived. But they knew that something had changed and something very important had happened.

It took years before it became clear – years of persecution and humiliation, years where they wondered if the boy had any idea what he was doing and why it was that he kept putting himself in danger. It all seemed too crazy to be true, and too horrible to contemplate. But then it came to pass, and David became the king of Israel, a far greater king than Saul had ever been. And even then they did not see the whole of his glory, how he was named a King after the Lord’s own heart, and how he was the great ancestor of the Messiah. They had no idea that, millennia later, his songs would be sung around the world by millions who had no drop of Jewish blood in their veins. He was, after all, their kid brother.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Ash Wednesday Prayer

At the place of intersection
Where the waves uproot the earth
And crash away, are gone;
At the place of silence
Where the rushing wind is paused
And I fall into myself;
At the place of burning
Where light, unavoidable, streams
And the dark lies trembling;
In this place, hear my prayer.

At the place of unclothing,
Where I struggle with filthy rags
And avert my shrinking gaze;
At the place of beseeching,
Where I account my beggared state
And have nothing in my hands;
At the place of forgetting,
Where the map won’t fit this country
And I know no compass points:
In this place, hear my prayer.

At the place of congestion,
Where the haggling voices drown me
And my lips have no words left;
At the place of desertion,
Where love vanishes in quicksand
And I castigate my heart;
At the place of ignorance,
Where assumptions turn to mock me
And relentless truth stares down;
In this place, hear my prayer.

And may mercy fall like rain.