Monday, February 08, 2016

A Step too Far

It is only now, as I climb my last mountain alone with god that I fully understand. At the time it seemed such a little mistake, just one step too far. While I would not dare to question His judgements, or so I told myself, in my heart I wondered why a little thing should matter so much. Why should my anger be a betrayal of God’s holiness? Wasn’t it part of my zeal for him?

I admit that I will be glad to be done with their bickering and squabbling, the perpetual grumbling that became like grains of desert sand blown constantly into my face: at first just a silly irritation, but over time irritation (such a little thing) grows to a great weariness of pain carried for too long, and the effort of bearing it turns to anger, and (I understand now) a kind of contempt. One cannot be compassionate and contemptuous at the same time. But it goes even deeper than that, and it has taken me a long time to understand. My own bitterness, rooted in pride because I was God’s instrument in their deliverance, had blinded me to the deeper truth. I had proclaimed God’s law, but I had veered away from His heart. In the end my own self-righteousness was still as foolish, my anger still as destructive and futile, as that time, so very long ago, when I struck and killed the Egyptian. Striking the rock instead of speaking to it was not just a momentary lapse, a tiny step too far past what God had decreed, it was an act of blasphemy against the One I had been called to represent.

Meribah we called that place, because the name means quarrelling. The people were protesting their lack of water, a valid concern (I acknowledge now), but the tone of it irked me. I had had enough of them. I had forgotten that the Lord takes pity on His people. So I sought the Lord, but I was not seeking His heart, only a set of instructions. He commanded me to speak to the rock and water would come forth. But I was angry. I was contemptuous. I disobeyed the command. I took that step too far, and it was the step over the edge of the precipice. I did not speak to the rock, I spoke to the people, words of condemnation and pride. I claimed for myself the power to produce the water that they needed, and then, in my arrogant rage, I struck the rock.

God was merciful. He gave them abundant water, in spite of my sin. But I was chastened. I no longer had the right to lead them into the Promised Land. I had offended against the holiness of the Lord. I had taken for my own the power to bring them life amidst the deadliness of the desert. I had failed to see that the heart of God’s holiness is a compassion so enormous that it will one day turn the whole world upside down. He does not despise us for our needs, He comes down to meet us where we are, and calls us into deeper trust. Most of all, though, I could not lead them into the Promised Land because I, myself, had failed to enter His rest. I had made it my own burden to carry them, and I was weary with it. It is the Lord who redeems, the Lord who provides, and it is the Lord who will carry His broken, sinful people and bring them into His victory.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Little Path

There is a little path
Beyond a little gate
Where all smells dark and green,
And trees in silence wait.

That little gate unlocks
Your own heart holds the key
And your feet tiptoe in
With strained temerity.

You cannot see what waits
Beyond that path’s first bend
But it is time to dare
And find where it will end.

So still, you hold your breath,
Yet venture, for you must,
Lest hope should lose its way
And dwindle into dust.

Here lies the hidden way
To those forgotten things
Which you must seek and find,
And build them into wings.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sweet Revenge

He had had enough. Home was boring. Every time he tried to have fun, his father would smile at him, sure, but he wasn’t imagining the quiet sorrow in his father’s eyes. It made him feel awkward. He needed to go somewhere where those eyes didn’t make him feel guilty just by seeing what he was doing. He needed to somewhere where those eyes couldn’t see him at all, so he didn’t need to even imagine that he might be grieving them. He would have his revenge on guilt and shame – he would go away where his father never had to look at him again! That would be sweet.

Then there was his brother. If his father made him feel sad just by looking in his direction, his brother would go out of his way to make him feel angry. Every time he gave himself a break, every time he so much as stopped to enjoy the blueness of the sky, let alone an extra glass of wine, his dutiful paragon of a brother would have something sarcastic to say about how useless he was, and how he didn’t do his fair share. Well, he’d had enough. He’d go away and leave his brother to do all the work. That would be a fitting revenge. That would be very sweet.

……………………………………………………………
It didn’t work out quite as he’d planned. Oh, it went well at first. But when the money was all gone, so was the wine, women and song. He was amazed that so much money could disappear so quickly. And when the money went, so did his “friends”. Suddenly the far country he had fled to didn’t look so wonderful any more. And there was famine in the land. The only job he could get was looking after pigs. Could he sink any lower? And he was so hungry …

There was nothing for it. In order to survive, he would have to return with his tail between his legs and beg for a servant’s position in the house he had left as a son. How they would mock him! What a sweet moment of revenge that would be for the father he had shamed and despised. But there comes a moment in a man’s life when survival is more important than pride, when envying the pigs for the husks they ate is seen as a fool’s game when he could have a decent wage and a full stomach for the cost of a little humility. (And could his pride hurt any more than it already did?)

So he rose and went forth, and as he walked the long, dragging pitiless miles home (there was no fine horse any more, he had sold it long ago) he rehearsed, over and over, the abject words he would say to try and soften his father’s heart. What if they turned him away? He had given them every right to do so.
 But his father had a sweeter revenge in mind than any his son had imagined. Every day he was faithfully watching for his son, and his heart lur4ched in recognition when his son was still a long way off, a mere blob on the horizon. Forgetting his age, forgetting his dignity, he ran down the road. Nothing mattered except taking his son in his arms and bringing him back home. He did not want apologies or self-flagellation, he only wanted his son. He brought him home with tears of gladness, and commanded a feast in gratitude. The sweetest revenge there could ever be on a wayward son was to have him back where he belonged: in the centre of his father’s home, in the centre of his father’s heart.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

The Tears of Tamar

Louder than the world,
She weeps in silence.
Her grief cuts to the heart of things
The blood-soaked mess of life.
Oh weep, my sisters!

Every tear cries out
Like the bitter blood of Abel,
Crying out for justice
As it soaks into the ground.
Oh weep, my sisters!

These are the tears of everywoman:
Violated,
Abused,
Silenced,
Shamed.
Betrayed and made invisible.
She weeps for every woman bought and sold,
Reduced to thing-hood
In the marketplace of lust.
Oh weep, my sisters!

She weeps in the shadows,
Hiding,
From the horror she has known,
And the anguish she has borne.
And the earth cries with her in its groaning,
The wrenching misery of exile.
Oh weep, my sisters!

Nothing matters now,
No beauty, no position,
For he showed no contrition
And her sweetness was as weakness.
Oh weep, my sisters!

As the earth turns,
And the tears fall
And the moon marks months of silence.
As she counts her losses
On fingers too thin to hold on;
And her mind replays the terror
And the emptiness that followed
The rejection that she swallowed
And the silence that was damned.
Oh weep, my sisters!

Let us weep with her
Till the morning breaks
And the glory wakes,
Till all tears are dried
Oh weep, my sisters,
With all the sisters,
The forgotten sisters
Of Tamar’s pain.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Thoughts on a Rainy day

This is the place I breathe
Under the rain’s soft sway
Here in the green of things
Under a sky of grey.

This is the place I rest
Where the rain’s music sings
Gently upon the roof
Giving my dreams fresh wings.

This is the place I smile
Watching the earth renew
Watching each drop bring life
Seeing what rain can do.

This is the place I lean
On the soft weight of years
Thinking how kindness comes
Wiping away our tears.

This is the place I pray
That, as the soft rains fall
Into the thirsty ground,
So You will fill us all.

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Wounded One

She would never sing again. Once she had sung all the time as she moved through her days, as she went about the tasks that were her choice and her pleasure. She was the daughter of a king, how could she not be glad? She was the daughter of the Sweet Singer of Israel, David himself, how could the music of her people not be the music of her heart? She was young, and a princess; she knew that she was beautiful and had believed that she was loved.

But no more. Never again would there be joy, or beauty or laughter in her heart. Never again would she believe any words of love. She had wept enough to water all the deserts of the wilderness, and it had availed her nothing. Nothing could wash such a wound, nothing could ever be right or beautiful again. She had learned that love vanishes when you are besmirched, that words of love are an empty lie that covers, for a season, one man’s lust and another’s indifference. She had been a princess, a sister and a daughter, now she was only the empty shell that held a gaping, repulsive wound.

She had never dreamt that her half-brother hid such treachery in his heart. How could she, when the very idea was an abomination in Israel? But he had played it cunningly, claiming to be sick and asking that his sister cook for him and serve him personally. Alone with him, doing what seemed a simple kindness, she had found herself seized and overpowered and brutally raped. It was an absolute violation of body and soul, and when she had begged him afterwards to marry her, so that at least she could retain some shreds of honour and dignity, he had utterly repudiated her. Like a man who comes hungry to the table, fiercely desiring his food, then, when his appetite is satisfied, regards the leavings on his plate with disgust, something fit only for the servants to remove, so had he treated her. He had lusted after her with a frenzy that was like a sickness in his bones, but when he had used her and abused her to the full reach of his depravity, he no longer wanted her. She was no longer the beautiful, inviolate princess; she was broken, bruised and soiled, worse than a common whore, and he loathed the very thing he had made her to become and drove her from his presence.

And that was not the ultimate betrayal. Surely, she had thought, her father would avenge her injury and restore her honour? She had not understood his weakness, his indulgence towards a son who had done evil, his unwillingness to take a stand in his own family when it needed to be taken. He ignored her plight and offered no consolation, no concern at all for the injustice she had endured. She was nobody, she was nothing, and the God whose praise she had once sung so joyfully, now seemed very far away. Her whole life was reduced to darkness and despair.

She did not know, she could not know, that God Himself is on the side of the broken and abused. She did not know that the day would come when God H9imself would be the victim of man’s most vicious cruelty. She did not know that, unlike her father, God would not stay remote from His suffering children, but would take their place to walk into the very depths of Hell to deliver them all. She did not know how deeply and eternally she was loved.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Return to Bethlehem?

Shall we return to Bethlehem
And take again the narrowed way
Descending through the dark of things
Toward that distant, alien day?

Shall we put off our modern cloth,
Our blithe superiority
The arrogance that laughs too loud
At yesterday’s antiquity?

Shall we become like kids again
Discard our adult heresy
That we were made the measurers,
And what we know is what must be?

Shall we be willing to let go
Of the braced walls of human pride
Sophistication’s coolest front
Behind which prop we cower, hide?

Shall we return? Oh let it be,
We trace our footsteps back again
To where the Lord God writhed in hay,
That busy night in Bethlehem.

Shall we in being be renewed
By learning to kneel in the dirt
Believing that this child alone
Is the lone healer of our hurt?

Can we believe? Do we believe,
Who cannot see or taste or hear
That in the darkness of that night
Did light beyond all worlds appear?

And do we know (for we can know).
The one whose birth made angels sing
Has walked our darkest human hells
And now is conqueror and King?