Monday, October 24, 2016

The Gannet

The flight – the gloried rush of piercing joy
Across the glinting, sun-smiled waves to skim
Sharp as the pointed arrow of His grace,
Into the full abundance which is Him.

Then from joy’s height to fall, swift as His love,
Into the ocean, fathomless, unknown.
The offering of the self – fierce, absolute,
Where every last defence is overthrown.

And is this terror? No, it is delight
Into the boundless bounty so to fall,
And find all sustenance is waiting there
For at the downmost point is given all.

(I found this poem this morning in an old notebook. I have no idea when I wrote it, but probably in New Zealand, about 10 years ago, when we saw the gannets plummeting out of the sky to fish)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Still Place

No matter how busy he got (and some days were busier than he had ever imagined could be possible), he always found time for this, time apart from the throngs around him, time apart from the endless questions, the endless reports that he must receive with sober judgement, the endless decisions, significant or meaningless, that he had to constantly make. Here, alone with his harp, he breathed out the pain, the frustration, the personal hurts and confusion, and breathed in the love and mercy of his God. Here he was restored, here the jumbled pattern of his days resolved into sense and meaning. He took his tears to God, and his anger, and that terrible sense of helplessness which is the grinding stone for everyone who finds themselves a leader.
Tonight he was pensive, looking back across the years of battle and bloodshed, and remembering how simple it had seemed when he was just a shepherd boy, out on the hills with the flocks, and his harp, and the heartbreaking beauty of God. But what if he turned it around?  What if he were the sheep and it was the Lord Almighty who was his shepherd, feeding him, leading him protecting him? What if … ?

He ran his hands across the strings, and his fingers found their joy. “The Lord is the shepherd,” he sang softly into the night air. No, that wasn’t it, there was a false note there. He faltered, paused and started again. “The Lord is MY Shepherd,” he sang. Yes, that was better, both the notes and the meaning rang true. And suddenly the song was flowing, in him and through him. “I shall not want”, “green pastures,” “still waters” – the words tripped from his tongue and the music flowed through his fingers. This was it, these were the words that put flesh and mortal understanding onto the secret gladness of his faith, clothing it with a form that gave some expression of the mystery that was his life and breath, the mystery that God would bend down into relationship with a broken man. He could see how the images fitted: the soul restored (oh yes!) the righteous path determined.

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” He paused. What could he say about that? But no, that also was true. He gazed into the darkness and saw it – “You are with me, your rod and your staff …” He breathed deeply, but he would not flinch from it. The deeper the pain, the more glorious was the mercy that carried him through. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” He remembered the rage of Goliath and the spears of Saul. He remembered cruelty, and fear, and blood shed far too easily, as if a man’s life counted for nothing. He bowed his head, unashamed of his tears. But God had been there, with him, even in the ugliest places. He raised his eyes and gazed, unafraid, into the infinite darkness of the skies, and, for a moment, it was as if he saw eternity open, and a glory that negated and washed away every pain and struggle:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” It was the song of his heart, and he would teach it to his people that it might be their song too.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ordinary Grace

Here, where the warp meets weft,
The liminal space, between breathing out and in,
Where the lines of the floorboards grow weary,
The place of our deep confusion,
His mercy falls.

Here, where we cease to be children,
Where we catch the ball that no one threw,
Where we ask the unspeakable questions,
Ignoring our own tears,
His mercy falls.

Here, where we pause before blank canvas,
Where anticipation meets uncertainty,
Or the world is wrenched awry in one sharp moment,
Glimpsing the true obscenity,
His mercy falls.

Here, where we find our ends
Are merely new beginnings when horizons sway.
Where preconceptions clash with life,
Betrayed by our own fear,
His mercy falls.

Here, where we see familiar loves,
With unfamiliar eyes, marvelling and doubting,
Where our hearts tear open, and he meets our wound with his,
In the dawn forever breaking,
His mercy falls

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

For me the Son of God is dancing

For me the Son of God is dancing,
He calls me forward into light.
He sings above my shattered spirit,
And bids me leave the fears of night.

For me the Son of God is dancing,
His clouds turn pink across the sky,
His rain is washing all our sorrow,
His stars coruscate in reply.

For me the Son of God is dancing
Above, beyond, below, before.
His steps are measured to my weakness
To rise, return, redeem, restore.

For me the Son of God is dancing
So graceful is his gracious grace –
He leans down from the highest heaven
To raise me up and wipe my face.

For me the Son of God is dancing,
His love has danced through death and hell.
My heart is dizzied by his splendour
And hears his whisper, “All is well.”

For me the Son of God is dancing,
His rhythm is eternity.
And mercy shapes his every movement,
And he desires to dance with me!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

One Afternoon

I stood there, in the great darkness, still making out the shape of the terrible cross and the shape of my son, my precious, precious son, hanging there. I couldn’t see it all the time of course. Tears have a merciful way of blurring our sight. But there are some things love does not allow us to turn away from, some places that love insists we stay, because sometimes our presence, and the mute witness of our grief, is the only thing we have left to give.

It was a long time ago that the ancient prophet had spoken to me, beholding my newborn son, but his words had been fixed in my heart, and now I tasted their full awfulness, like I was drinking down wormwood and gall. “And a sword shall pierce your heart, yours also”, he had said. I had not realised that this was what he meant, I had thought it fulfilled in the ordinary pinpricks of life, the growing pains of seeing your child go in ways you had never expected (though why I had ever thought a carpenter’s shop would be enough for this miraculously wrought child seems a great foolishness to me now!) But now I knew that sword, sharp as a Roman gladius, had stabbed into my vital organs, and twisted them into excruciating agony. The least I could do was stand there and keep watch, that terrible afternoon, in a place beyond courage, where only love could hold me there.

I remembered other afternoons, woven of sunshine (had the sun now vanished forever?), the texture and shape of the life we had shared together – those early years in Egypt, when nothing but the pangs of exile had shadowed our lives, the return to Nazareth and the ordinary years (apart from the odd incident when he had stayed behind in the temple when he was twelve – a foreshadowing of the day when he would go forth into the world). There was the wedding in Cana, and the afternoon when I saw him do his first miracle, the water became wine, and nothing in the world was ever quite the same again. I remember the crowds that gathered to his teaching, and the endless, endless parade of the sick and the broken who came to him for healing. None of them were here now except the women who stood with me, and John, the only one of the men who remained. In the dreadful darkness we could count our number, and we were very few. There were no miracles that day, though I had half expected there would be, only the bitterness of all our hope being laid down in the grave. How could this possibly be God’s plan?

And there was silence, and there was darkness, and he cried his last, and all I had left to give my beloved son was a grave borrowed from a generous stranger. I discovered then that there is a place beyond pain where one has almost ceased to be human, and there, as it was, I pitched my tent.

But I did not stay there. For on the third day, on the most beautiful morning of the world, that dreadful afternoon was undone, or, rather, the emptiness it had carved out was filled and overflowing, with the best wine which he had saved till last. This was what it was all for – this! For this I had borne the shamed months of my pregnancy, for this I had endured exile, for this I had watched my son alienate all the powers of the land, for this I had stood in the terrible darkness. And I drank deep of a joy from beyond this world, which had now broken into this world. For my son, who had been dead, was alive, and now he lives for evermore

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Heart of the Matter

Killing men was all in a day’s work. Like all Romans of his class he had done his stint in the army and worked his way up the political ladder. He had been ending men’s lives either with his own sword, or by commanding the swords of those under him, all his adult life. By definition, the glory of Rome was what he was there to promote, and any life that did not contribute to Rome’s glory was worthless by definition, and to be disposed of with no more thought than you would give to killing a hen that no longer laid. Why should this time, this man, be any different?

Alright, he didn’t like the hole and corner business of midnight trials and early morning summons. He was a suspicious man by nature, and this aroused all his suspicions. What were the Jewish leaders up to? And the prisoner, now he looked at him squarely, looked nothing like the typical insurrectionist. In fact, he had probably never been in a real fight in his life. So what was going on?

There was something he wasn’t being told, and he was in no mood to be played with, or treated as just a rubber stamp for their internal problems. Had they forgotten who was in charge? And there was something about this man, neither cringing nor defiant, but simply standing there, as if he were not the one on trial at all, that intrigued him. He wasn’t going to sign off on this one without learning more. He tried sending the prisoner to Herod when he learned the man was a Galilean, but Herod sent him back. He sent him off to be flogged, hoping this would settle the matter, but even though the prisoner returned besmeared with blood and with a crown of thorns on his head (oddly unsettling to look at, even for an old soldier), the mob from the temple still weren’t appeased.  They told him that the man was an enemy of Rome, who had declared himself to be a king, yet, when he questioned the man further, all he would say was that his ki8ngdom was not of this world (whatever that meant!). Further the man would not respond to him, and who in such straits would resist either desperately defending themselves our shouting out their last desperate defiance? This man was different. In fact, he believed this man was innocent, which normally wouldn’t have worried him too much any way. But this time, inexplicably, it did.

But the rabble-rousers of Jerusalem were having none of it. They wanted this man killed, and they threatened to report him to Rome if he didn’t comply. How could the life of one man, however innocent, however different, compare to his own career and his family honour? So he gave the order to have Jesus of Nazareth crucified. But first her ordered a basin of water to be brought to him, and publically washed his hands of the man’s blood. But whether he gave him further thought, or whether he ever came to understand the magnitude of what happened, history does not tell us.

But what history does tell us is that, at that Passover in Jerusalem, the world was changed forever, and the name of Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judea, is remembered with infamy as long as the world endures. He had gone through the forms, but completely missed the heart of the matter. The man he condemned to death was God Himself, and the blood he shed that day was, ironically, the only thing that could have cleansed him from the blood-guilt that no symbolic basin of water could remove. Pilate died in his time and his burial place is unknown save to the vaguest of legends, but the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is empty, and he lives and reigns for evermore.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Hunter

He does not hunt to destroy, he hunts to release mankind from their terrible captivity, and he has been doing so since the first dawn of humanity. Many despise him, some fear him as the embodiment of their selfhood’s deepest nightmare, many hide from him under pleasure or philosophy. But those who have experienced what he can do for them, the ones he has “caught”, feel only deep wonder, abiding gratitude and tremulous, overwhelming love.

Each pursuit is its own story. Long ago there were two who hid in a garden, pitiably attempting to conceal their nakedness. He would not allow them to hide from him; ruthlessly he called them forth and made them own what they had done. And on the day that death entered the world, the promise of life entered also.

There was another, one who had bound up the deepest longings of his soul with lies, deception and the slick tricks of a shyster. Ah! that was a long pursuit, through years and across deserts, luring him with angelic dreams and the dismay of being bested by the sharp practices of another, until the time came when he  could run no further, and the Hunter brought his flight to a standstill, appearing in the form of a stranger to wrestle with him and overthrow him.

And there was a woman, a heathen prostitute, whom he sought in a strange city. She saw him for what he was, despite the deceptions she lived under, and, being wise and discerning, she chose to cleave to him and to his people. And she was freed.

There was one who thought that he could flee the Hunter by taking a ship to the furthest reaches of the known world, but it was not so easy to escape. There was a mighty storm that threatened shipwreck, and a mighty fish that swallowed him whole, taking him down into a darkness where he could not escape the truth any longer.

There were so many of them: the shepherd boy of confident faith who had to pass through rejection and exile, then later the revelation of his own deep sin before he was truly free, the man who had to marry a faithless woman in order to understand the forgiving love at the heart of the universe, the young boy who was called in the middle of the night and whose heart was made captive forever.

But there was a greater prey that the Hunter sought – one that must be overcome in order for true freedom to occur.  And prey’s name was death, and its power came from sin. But the Hunter knew that it was vulnerable, and how to overcome it. And he did it by becoming vulnerable himself. He was stripped from his power and glory, his might and dominion, and became a nothing. And in that lowly, helpless form he submitted to death and hell, and was taken into the very depths of their heartland. And there the one who was beaten and mocked, reviled and tormented, won a victory that was absolute and unimaginable. Death itself was overcome, and the Hunter returned in triumph.

And still the victorious Hunter hunts, that the souls of men may be rescued and restored. And still, until this earth shall end, he comes to set his people free.