Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Georgia O'Keeffe

How you disturb me:
The curve of your flowers,
The intimate spaces,
Where beauty detours;
The visceral spaces
Vicissitude traces,
Engaging. Engulfing
And yet love endures.

Through light and darkness
The spirit, not soaring,
But delving, in wonder,
To compass the small.
Near is the courage
And fearless the forging:
Owning, and gaining
And compassing all.

What are you saying?
To whom are you speaking?
How you do challenge
And make your paint sing!
Nothing is static,
Arrived, or arriving.
Journey to stillness,
But carry a sting!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Psalm of a Sydney Winter

I give thanks for skies so blue I get lost in their beauty;
For the slantwise sunlight, adorning every leaf;
For the golden blaze of wattle in the nadir of the year;
For brave, bright camellias with polished leaves;
For the cosiness of bed and the astringency of rising;
For the brilliant flash of lorikeets and white clown cockatoos;
For the dew that falls like blessing.

I praise your name for the laughter of kookaburras
Adorning the morning air;
For nights that wrap the house like a blanket,
Like the strong arms of your love;
For buds on bare branches, and the promise of renewal;
For nature’s downtime, the respite,
The pause between the songs;
For clear night skies a-thrum
With the alien melodies of stars,
Sharp as crystal,
Piercing the soul with beauty.

I thank you that, as seasons turn,
We see new aspects of your glory,
New ways to sing your praise.
I thank you that the seasons of austerity
Carry their hidden beauty:
Flowers of another spring
Pressed between the pages of our lives,
Promising the Spring that ends all winters.
I thank you that the sun and moon
Shall not cease in their rising till he comes:
The Son of Righteousness
Who rises
That the whole world may be healed.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Robber's Tale

I will tell you the truth, I never expected to come to a good end. From my childhood I was one of those boys marked out for trouble, running wild and getting into bad company. It would be easy to blame all my family’s woes on the Roman tax system, but the truth is (and I can admit that now after years and years when my scalding hatred of Rome was the thing that propelled me on), my parents were wastrels, lazy, careless and concerned for nothing but their own immediate gratification. If they had been very rich, perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered so much, or perhaps they would have plunged even faster into every kind of degradation. I know now that, while Rome certainly isn’t blameless (all kingdoms except one squeeze as much as they can out of the people at the bottom), it was only the catalyst that hastened my family’s inevitable destruction. But my parents blamed Rome for every bad thing that happened, and, as a child, I believed them. It is always easier to blame an external enemy.

So I grew up without a trade, without an inheritance, and with a deep anger burning in my heart. Is it any wonder that I gravitated towards the rebels and the robbers. Truth to tell, we were nothing more than a band of brigands, carving out our own little niche on the Jerusalem-Jericho road, which was infested with our kind, but we told ourselves that we were nobly resisting Roman rule, striking a blow for freedom; and we were foolish enough to believe our own lies. In fact we rarely attacked Romans of any kind, they were far too well defended. It was our own people, and heedless foreigners that we usually attacked, telling ourselves that they wouldn’t be rich enough to steal from if they weren’t collaborating with Rome. It is extraordinary the lengths we will go to so that we can justify ourselves and be heroes in our own imaginations, when the squalid truth was that we were simply criminals.

Of course I ended up getting caught, I wasn’t nearly as clever as I thought I was, and in one of the periodic clearances of the area I didn’t get away fast enough. Then I languished in prison until my execution date was set. I had time to do a lot of thinking then, being forced to sit still and quiet for once in my life, and some of my realisations really made me squirm. I got chatty with some of the guards and began to realise that perhaps these Roman soldiers didn’t exactly have the wonderful life I’d always envied. They also told me news of what was going on in the city (conversation helps pass the time, even for a guard) and inevitably I started hearing about Jesus, the teacher from Nazareth. I was fascinated.

The day came for my execution. Any man would be terrified of crucifixion, and I was no exception. As we walked the streets to Golgotha I noticed the crowds and realised it must be Passover. I had lost count of the days, and, anyway, whoever heard of keeping Passover in a robber’s den? So much for our allegiance to our own people!

Everyone knows the horrors of crucifixion, I don’t need to go there. It was only after I was strung up there in agony that I realised, from the things that the crowd were saying,  that the man on the cross next to me was Jesus. I looked at him, I looked at myself, and noticed the difference. But mostly I looked at him, even in my extremity, I couldn’t tear my eyes away. And when the thief on the cross on the other side started mocking him as well, it was too much. With a last surge of my own anger, I said, “Don’t you fear God? We are under the same sentence, be we deserve our punishment. This man has done has done nothing wrong!”

And as I said those words, understanding came. I do not know fully who he is or what he is doing, but I knew enough. And I knew that all my life I had misunderstood everything. I turned to him, and the tears in my eyes were no longer from the pain. Brokenhearted, with no more pride, no more anger I simply begged, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.

He looked me fully in the eye and replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 It is almost the end. My agony will be over soon. But I am no longer afraid. I am with Jesus.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

No Continuing City

And the desert stretches bare,
Lean and dry in finitude
And all the harsh winds howl
In our solitary decrepitude.

And the waves of time crash over
Our crumbling fortress towns
We gather lonely rags
And name them wedding gowns.

And the weariness we feel
With cycle, rinse, repeat,
Is clamour in our ears
And cruel stones to our feet.

And the cities that we build
All fall down into dust:
The pain we cannot name
That undermines our trust.

Each stone, each bitter stone,
Transmutes the living heart
To desolation’s rock:
Dead so it cannot smart.

And every word we speak
And every hope we dream
Is built upon the sand
To silence our heart’s scream.

And yet there is a place
Beyond our farthest sight
Where crash no alien seas,
Where falls no fearsome night.

A place no terrors shake
No entropy dismays:
A place whose very stones
Sing forth their Maker’s praise.

From heaven like a bride
Its glory shall come down
The city nought can shake
God’s Self its cornerstone.

And we who trembling walk
The desperate wilderness
We seek the city built
Upon His faithfulness.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Walk softly

Walk softly with great love, walk softly.
Be tender, do not trample those beneath you.
Let the bruised and the broken
Be the burden of your heart
Walk softly.
Be aware, aware,
Be merciful, giving honour,
Be aware.
Let their cries become your cry
In the mystery of faith.
Walk softly.

Dance wildly into joy, dance wildly.
Let the bright winds catch your hair.
Move to the rhythm of the angels’ song
Here, in the cold plains of exile.
Be aware,
Dancing wildly,
Making room
For the Kingdom
And the Glory
In the measure of your steps,
In the Hope that sets you singing.
Dance wildly.

Kneel quietly, entering prayer, kneel quietly.
Know your own smallness, and be glad,
For our weakness is His strength.
Be Spirit-winged.
Be aware,
Kneeling quietly
In the sanctum of your heart,
Breathing grace
And trust,
Kneel quietly.
Run firmly in your race, run firmly,
Do not turn aside for golden apples
Thrown by weak desires
And secret follies.
Be aware,
Running firmly.
Knowing who is your goal,
Through heat and cold,
The long tumult of the years,
Laughing against the byways.
Run firmly.

And the sunlight will sing to you,
The mercy will flow through you.
Humility will release you
And the stars will call you home.

Not For This

It was not for this that I sang sweet songs of adoration to my God, that I praised him and proclaimed him from the time my fingers were long enough to stretch across the strings. It was not for this that I told my people, in words, in music, in every possible way, that the Lord’s ways were altogether righteous, and him only should they serve – not so that I should be the most flagrantly disobedient of them all.

It was not for this that I bore with the vagaries of Saul, his dark, dark moods and his murderous jealousy. It was not for this that I fled when he threw his spear, and that even when I caught him in the cave and he was in my power, I refrained from harming him because I would not lift my hand against the Lord’s anointed. And I knew, even in those desperate years when I hid in the wilderness that the Lord’s favour was with me, and his anointing still stood through the barren space of years. And I have come down to this. I, who would not lift my hand against an unfaithful king have lifted it against a most faithful servant and taken his life, though by proxy. (It is still my blood-guilt. I know that now.) And I could not wait out my lust one little moment (though I waited out all of Saul’s revilings), but had to have the woman now, though she was not mine to take.

It was not for this that I found the courage of a pure faith (though I was little more than a child) and went forth to do battle with the monster Goliath who had dared insult my God. For I had not slain the monster within me: the monster of self-righteousness, the monster of entitlement, the secret, bitter, depravity of my own heart. And now it is laid bare for the whole of Israel to see, and God has shone his righteous light on the deeds I did in darkness, and there is no shame like mine.

All my life I have been a warrior, and a warrior-king, but the moment I stopped battling the enemies without, I surrendered without a battle to the enemy within. I had forgotten that God desires truth in the inward parts. I had slipped into thinking that it was enough to proclaim him in the great assembly of the people, and to support and uphold his worship. And now I am exposed – a murderer, an adulterer, and yes, (and this is bitter to male pride) a rapist, who took a woman unwilling when I had so many that were willing. Not for this was I anointed king.

And now there is nothing left but to cry out to God and pray for him to change me. For I cannot make myself clean. Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. I have stood against monsters and mighty foes, but I never needed you then as much as I need you now. Do not cast me away from your presence, do not take your Holy Spirit from me. It was not for this that you made me, it was not for this that you exalted me, that I might shame your holy name. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, for I cannot live without you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Invitation to sleep

Body, be at rest,
Day’s doings done!
The world will turn without you.
Lay you down.
And let the great eternal forces
Carry you to morning.

Busy mind, be still!
Your thinking can’t
Change the world on its own.
It’s time to stop,
To trust,
To let your smallness carry you
To dreams of wonder and another day.

Soul, let go!
The mountains and the valleys and the heights
Will stand without you;
Whirling stars will dance
To their own music,
They require you not.
Remember who you are,
Remember whose,
And let go and lie down.

For this you know,
You know this certainty:
You sleep and wake in safety.
Day and night
Are written in the fabric of the world,
And in their rhythm teach a greater thing.
For death will come
A falling into dark,
To fall through to a morning bright and fair,
To fall through to the Love that always holds,
And holds forever.

Rest, and be content.