Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Kiss of God

This peace: the sun retreats, the air is still.
The light a golden chrism touching all
Soon the stars light their candles, one by one,
Soon I’m transfixed by their high silver call.
And, knowing only this is wholly good,
I tremble to receive the kiss of God.

There is a largeness in the air tonight
Where conversations gleam and dance and thrill
Where soul reveals a naked glimpse to soul
And is received in all its good and ill.
And, knowing only this is wholly good,
I tremble to receive the kiss of God.

Prayer, and the lifting up of little hands
Into their Father’s strong and sturdy grasp,
Knowing he listens to our every breath,
Knowing we’re safe forever in his clasp.
And, knowing only this is wholly good,
I tremble to receive the kiss of God.

Mercy, it breathes through every breath we take,
Grace that can raise our brokenness to bliss
He is my God who gives himself to me,
I, though I flounder, I am wholly his.
And, knowing only this is wholly good,
I tremble to receive the kiss of God.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The Party

You think you know who your friends are, don’t you? Well, I thought I did, and by my time of life you would have expected to have it all sorted out. After all, it’s a long time since we were fickle children, quarrelling and changing playmates in a way that no adult could ever hope to keep up with. I knew, because I am a man of the world and not unobservant, that people can turn away from you when things go badly; I did not know, until now, that they can turn away from you when you offer them something good. It seems I do not understand people nearly as well as I thought I did.

I remember the day I first planned my banquet. Life has been good and I have been blessed with more abundance than I had ever dreamed of. I looked around me with pleasure, and then the thought struck: wouldn’t it be good to share all this with my friends? So I sent out my servants with the save the date cards, and everyone replied that they would be very happy to come. So I started my preparations, wanting to put together the best party that has ever been seen in these parts. Such scrubbing, such shopping, such planning, such baking! I even gave my servants extra pay for all their hard work helping me turn my dream into a reality, and I smiled to myself as I ran around busy with everything. What fun this was going to be!

Then the day of the big event arrived and I sent my servants out to fetch the guests. They went out smiling with anticipation, they returned looking downcast and forlorn. My friends weren’t coming! Every single one had returned an excuse of the sorry but I’m too busy” kind. And what flimsy, insulting excuses they were. One had just bought a field and had to go and check it out. Really? Who buys a field sight unseen? And, ahem, the field would still be there just the same tomorrow, since it can’t exactly get up and move somewhere else! Another said he’d just bought himself a yoke of oxen and had to check them out. Seriously? He’d just spent all that money on them without checking them first? I knew him to be a canny businessman; I simply didn’t believe it.

The last one to come back was the most insulting of them all. He couldn’t come because he’d just got married! He was supposed to be my friend and not only did he not invite me to his wedding, but he planned it to clash with my big party. I had some very dark thoughts then, imagining all my “friends” gathered at this wedding, laughing at my failed party.

But I am not a man to be easily defeated. If my so-called friends couldn’t make it, I wasn’t going to let it spoil things. I would find myself some other guests. So I called my servants back and told them to go out into the highways and the byways, the forgotten places that no one cares about, and give my invitation to the people you find there – the poor, the broken, the disabled, the rejected, and compel them to come to my party.

Well, they did, and they came, and we had the best night of my life. I have new friends now, people who actually want to come to my house. But as we cleaned up the day after, I gazed around, giving thanks for such a blessing, and a new thought struck me. Do I treat God the way my friends treated me, happily nodding and saying “yes, yes,” until he wants a real commitment from me?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Lewis and Hathaway

They walk together,
The kind man and the pilgrim soul,
Through the dream clad city
(Where the heart is always young,
And thirsty),
And every base desire
Is cloaked up in such sophistries
As dazzle Byzantium,
Confusing and alluring in a serpent dance.

Truth is always journey’s end
The difficult journey,
Obfuscated, obstacle,
And fraught with every fear.
All revelation
Reverts self-revelation just like Newton’s Law.
And who can bear such light?
Only humility
Can walk straight through the maze.

Here stars sing poetry,
Scientists meddle in subjectivity,
Historians flinch at facts,
We are all bent creatures,
Imagining the grasp of Sauron’s ring,
While Alice sits within the gliding boat,
And Narnia demands “Become a child!”

And so the kind man and the pilgrim do
What Oxford always does;
Sit, drink, and talk,
Until they reach the meeting of the minds,
The clarity which is felicity
And charity shall hold the torch up high.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

That was my Springtime

That was my springtime, then,
When tears washed my whole world clean
And watered in love made new.
Was that your springtime too?

That was my springtime, then,
When I first raised my eyes
And gazed into infinite blue.
Was that your springtime too?

That was my springtime, then,
Blossoms torn off by pain
But then new wonders grew.
Was that your springtime too?

That was my springtime, then,
Bleakness and shearing wind
And yet soft sun broke through.
Was that your springtime too?

That was my springtime, then,
All seemed so small and plain
And yet the wild birds flew.
Was that your springtime too?

That was my springtime, then,
When falsehoods thaw and wane
Learning that joy was true.
Was that your springtime too?

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Woman and the Whispers

Years ago she had learned to hold her head high amongst the whispers, even when her heart was breaking. They didn’t attack her directly, a priest’s wife had some status still, even a barren one, but she knew the hushed voices and the quickly averted eyes, the not-quite-hidden mockery. She knew it all, because her own heart was her fiercest critic. How could she have failed so badly when she had tried so hard? Why were her arms so empty when, every day, she saw careless women, shallow women, even pagan women, with babies in their arms?  Was there some secret sin for which the Lord had cursed her with an unfilled womb? There was a time when she had wondered if it were her husband, Zechariah, who was at fault, but he was a good man, who earnestly sought the Lord. It could not be him. Besides, hadn’t she been taught all her life that these things were a woman’s responsibility. And now that she was too old for any possibility of pregnancy it was all a settled misery that she showed to no one.

Then came the day when her husband came home from serving in the temple. His tongue was silent but his face was radiant, and when he tried to write out on a tablet what had happened to him, she wondered if he had gone mad. What was this talk of angels and babies, of unbelief and dumbness? She had no idea what to make of any of this, but it was troubling. It stirred up old wounds, and in the silence of the night she cried out to God.

But as the weeks passed, she noticed the changes in her body, changes that would have filled her with joy twenty or thirty years before. But now she was confused. How could she be pregnant now, when her fertile years had brought her nothing? Could she be imagining this, self-deceived by the very desperation of her longings? And what if she lost the child? Wouldn’t that just invite further scorn from the mockers, further whispers in the corner? For five months she hid herself away from public scrutiny, afraid; yet even as she felt the waves of doubt and fear roll over her, she felt something else as well – a whisper of joy that would not be silenced, but as the unborn child grew, it grew as well, a secret angelic hymn of praise in her heart. Despite her aching, aging limbs and the growing weight within her, she wanted to dance down the street and sing out to the gossips and the whisperers that her reproach had been taken away.

And when she was six months pregnant, the last whisper of doubt was silenced, for her cousin Mary came from Nazareth, with a story even more wondrous than her own, and at their meeting, the Holy Spirit came upon her and she understood, and cried aloud her wonder and her praise. And the child in her womb leapt in wonder and delight (could such a thing even be?), for he recognised his Lord and his messiah, and, even before birth he was committed to his role to be the forerunner to call Israel back to repentance, just as Elijah had done in his own time. For the King was coming.

And the two women, one old and one young, but both caught up into the glory of the same story, embraced and wept and went into the house together. There was so much they needed to talk about.

And the whisperers never troubled Elizabeth again


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Note to Abusers

Though you break them, they will rise
With stark knowledge in their eyes:
Terrible what they have seen,
Terrible where they have been,
But it is your soul that died,
Leaving raging lust inside.

Power is the drug you yearn
For the pain you won’t discern.
For the things you will not own
Play you like a gramophone
With a scratchy, broken tune
Howling to a silent moon.

Put in place your plastic smile!
It won’t hide the crocodile
Lurking just below your skin
Ravening for another sin,
This dark hunger won’t be fed
Till it eats you and you’re dead!

Every time you harm a child
You yourself become defiled

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Parable of the Plants

I was dreaming, and in my dream I saw a vast plain, stretching to the horizon.  A high wall of solid rock divided the plain, so that one side of the wall was in brilliant sunlight, and the other in perpetual shadow, with only a kind of twilight from the glow on the other side of the wall. All over the plain there were green plants. On the sunlit side the plants were not yet fully mature, but they were flourishing, and as they grew you could see that each plant was unique, bearing its own kind of fruit or flowers. Some were bushes, some were young trees, each of them had room to spread its branches, and all of them were beautiful.

It was different on the dark side. They had rigged up artificial lights to help them grow, but the wavelength of the light was wrong somehow, and the more they leaned towards these false lights, the more their growth was distorted. Some were taller, some were shorter, some were stronger, some were weaker, but none of them bore fruit. They blamed each other for their lack of growth. “You’re crowding me!”, or,  “You’re taking my space”, or “my soil” etc., were common complaints. Everything was competitive.

Every so often the word would go around that the only way to flourish was to be uprooted from the dark side and replanted on the bright side. Occasionally a plant would cry out “I surrender!” and a giant hand would reach down from the sky, pluck it out of the ground and transport it to the other side of the wall. Most of the plants around it would be horrified, it looked like a form of death, but sometimes another plant would be moved to cry out its surrender too, and be transplanted.

And as I watched, it seemed like time was speeding up, and the dark side was growing darker, and the bright side was growing brighter …

This was my dream, make of it what you will