Thursday, December 07, 2017

Questions for Mary

Where were you when the angel came
On an ordinary day
In a town of no reputation?

Surely you were alone
In that all-shattering moment,
In the house?
In the field?
By the well?
What were you thinking
When your world turned inside out?
And did those thoughts return?

And how do angels come:
With great beating wings
Of terror?
Or quietly walking
As if they were always there?
Or simply present
Like a sunbeam’s touch on your face?
Can you look in their eyes?
Or does their merest glance
Cover the whirling galaxies
And the steeped up slopes of time?

And which was harder,
Telling others,
Or believing it yourself?

Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Slave

Now I know what a fool I was. How could I have been so stupid? But in a world where you have nothing, you take what you can get; in a world where you have no life, no choices of your own you don’t plan ahead (what plans can you make when your master or mistress can destroy them on a moment’s whim?). You never think about the big picture, for there is no consolation there, where there is no hope.

It all began (from my point of view) when the master took me to his bed – not exactly an unheard of fate for a slave, but it had never happened before in this household. Of course, nobody asked me if I wanted to, slaves don’t have the right to say yes or no to whatever is asked of them, and, let’s be honest, high-born women rarely have the right either, though they generally get some tokens of respect. But at least the old man was kind to me, and I was very thankful for that.

But then I became pregnant, and I became overjoyed. I might be only a slave, and my mistress a high-born free woman, but I had achieved something that she had never managed in all her years. I was bearing the master’s son, his only son! (I never doubted it would be a boy) Is it any wonder that I went a little crazy? Such fantasies I had of supplanting my mistress (who, after all was old and barren) and becoming my master’s new wife, his favourite wife. Then that spiteful old woman wouldn’t be able to order me around anymore, and I would put her in her place. I had miscalculated badly.

Of course Sarai saw my attitude and guessed what I was thinking. She could not endure it, what woman could in this insecure world we live in, where our lives are totally dependent on our usefulness to the men we belong to? She, in turn, became so bitter towards me, so cruel, that I fled from her in terror.

It was then that the miracle happened. There I was, alone in the world, resting by the spring with no idea where to go or how to find safety, when the glorious messenger of God appeared – to me, a slave! What sort of God cares about slaves? What sort of God would deign to notice someone like me, let alone stoop down to speak to them? He gave me promises for my son, promises I can scarcely understand, but how can I doubt his word? And he bade me return to my mistress and humble myself before her, and so I did, and all was well again.
 But I will never be the same, for I have met with the God who sees, and I know that he sees all things even into the hearts of the least of us. And, despite all the pride and folly of our hearts, he does not despise us, but deals with us tenderly. And I wonder, as I carry my son, my miracle, my Ishmael, how is it that God in heaven understands how it feels to be a slave, a nobody, a nothing? Something tugs at my imagination, could God himself become a nobody? But I shy away from the thought, such a thing would turn the whole world upside down.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Defenders of Abuse

They sit in their cold, careful castles,
The men to whom life was so kind
Believing that clean reputations
Are kept by the deaf and blind.
The grubby, pathetic and scrubby
Are whitewashed with such careful paint,
And when someone says that it’s happening,
They reply, right on cue, “No, it ain’t.”

In love with their great institutions,
In love with their bright golden thrones,
They polish their canopies’ framework,
Gold varnish placed on dead men’s bones,
They practise their eloquent phrases,
So musical to their own ears,
And wash their hands clean from the problem
In a bowl of the victims’ salt tears.

Themselves are the true persecuted,
So runs their mellifluous song;
“What a shame that these people are bitter,
What a pity that they are so wrong!”
How hollow their words are to history,
Where self-defence brays like an ass,
And the more that they measure each sentence,
The more they sound heartless and crass!

The angels come down from the heavens
To stand with the broken of earth,
They lift them with infinite mercy
And give their cause measureless worth.
But those who have trampled the hurt ones
To build their own temple of pride,
Are those who blaspheme what is holy,
God’s love for each terrorised child.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Defeat

Take and eat
Take and drink
Remember …

Remember the man who lost everything
Remember the man who had nowhere to lay his head, unless a friend invited him in
Remember the man that the crowds gave up on when he told them hard truths they didn’t want to hear.
Remember him.

Remember the man whose own friend betrayed him.
Remember the man whose friends slept uncaring while he writhed in agony of soul.
Remember the man who lived and walked and talked with his little group of followers for three years, and then they looked at him blankly when he tried to explain the whole point.
Remember the man whose friends gladly ate the bread of heaven, but ran away when the bread was broken.
Remember him.

Take and eat
Take and drink

Remember the man, the innocent man, who was arrested at night by rough soldiers, taken to a farcical trial where false witnesses swore evidence against him, and condemned to death.
Remember the man who was cruelly flogged by jeering soldiers who thought that mocking his kingship and ridiculing his dignity was the most fun they’d had all week.
Remember the man who had to carry the unbearable weight of his cross (and ours) to the place of execution, until he fell beneath its weight, doewn in the dust of the road, and couldn’t get up again.
Remember the man who had nails hammered through his living flesh, and then was strung up naked, so the world could laugh at his helplessness while he slowly suffocated in agonising pain.
Remember him.

Take and eat.
Take and drink.

Remember the man who did not even have the light of day to give him courage while he was dying.
Remember the man whose friends deserted him and denied him in fear, while his enemies triumphed in unholy joy.
Remember the man who was hastily buried in a borrowed tomb, because he still had nowhere on earth to call his own.
Remember him.
Remember that defeat doesn’t get more absolute than this.

But then
Remember that he rose again, overcoming death forever.
Remember that he has secured life forever, life in all its fullness, for those that put their trust in him.
Remember that sin and death and hell, and all the thorns, and pains and brokenness of the curse are vanquished forever by him, and trampled underfoot.
Remember that he sits at the Father’s right hand and holds the scroll of history.
Remember that he shall come again in glory to rule over all things, our King, our Judge, our, Saviour.

Take and eat.
Take and drink

And remember that he did it all for you.

Friday, November 17, 2017

My Freedom Found

My freedom found
In this one word
Like the tender thunder
Of the unfolded rose
Breathing out my name
In love.

My freedom found
In this one call
Summoning to the edge
Beyond my mapping
Beyond my understanding
Learning trust
In the silent halls of fear.

My freedom found
In this one hope
Blazing the horizon
When my eyes are blind
Spectral glory
To my tears.

My freedom found
In this one place,
In this one service,
One gladness,
One transcendent truth,
One gladness that has turned all sorrow
Inside out,
One life

Thursday, November 16, 2017

After Psalm 42

This is the dry land
Stretching beyond sight
And soaking up our tears

This is the arid land
Unfit for our survival
Desiccating joy
Preserving every skeleton
And the wind of time beats against our faces
Devouring all we are.
Into this land we are born.

But oh, the stars
Brilliant in this dry sky,
Calling our names, reminding us of more!

Let us not be satisfied with sand
Or call our thirst ‘maladjustment’.
Let our hearts be more than a shell,
A hollow place packed with dust:
Dry, shrivelled, dead,
Where skittering insects crawl across our minds.

Let our thirst become a prayer,
Let us know our need,
In our stumbling and our mumbling let us learn to weep
Even in the dry land.
Till His rivers flow
Deep beyond deep,
And carry us to Love.

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Change in the Weather

There is a change in the weather
There is a change in the air.
We don’t altogether approve it
Preferring a forecast of fair.
But the clouds settle down like a blanket,
The wind rises high in the trees
The rain’s pouring down like a torrent
And none of them ask, “if you please?”

Soon comes the thunder and lightning
Soon comes the fierce of the storm
We huddle right down in our comfort
Hoping to stay dry and warm.
But the wind is so fierce in our faces
And the challenge is blazed in our eyes
And we raise up our chins to the tempest
And shout to the thundering skies.

For we were born into the laughter
Of those who would dream and would dare
And a wild, wild blood surges under
The workaday face which we wear.
While the eagle screams out to the mountains
And our tears are washed clean by the rain
We shall not shrink back under cover
But stand up and try once again.