Saturday, December 26, 2009

Simeon

1.
So long
I have watched the world turning
Have seen the petty greed, the vanity,
The prideful rage, the hearts that nurse their hurts:
The dragging of the vision through the dust.

They speak the law
With pious lips that never kissed the flame
Of love’s bright glory, tongues untouched by coals.
Words of light
Are darkness at their speaking, nooses spun
To trip unwary men and cause their hurt.
I have seen hate
Nursed, like an idol, in the holy place:
My heart was sick, my very stomach sour.

“Where is your God?” the mocking shadows taunt.

I will keep the faith – though it is not mine, but yours,
The word once given
And never taken back -- I will believe it.
I will stand on ramparts of my soul,
Surveying sorrow,
And let this hunger be my prayer to you.

For I know that you will come
Not in shadow, but substance,
Your word fulfilled in flesh like unto mine
Reversing history with audacious love.
And, though I walk in darkness,
I am blessed.
I shall embrace my God.

2.
Hidden among the crowd: man, woman, child.
The common place pious poor, on a common day,
When the temple groaned with tiredness.
There was no beauty
Particular to them.
No angels sang, the sky stayed just the same.

And yet I knew, I knew my peace had come.
The Spirit’s whisper shouted in my heart,
“This is the One!”
In my weak arms He lay,
Sovereign and savior, yes! My very God!
A little child who’ll wipe all tears away.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Donkey Remembers

Ok, I know that the donkey is possibly a pious fiction (though not a ridiculous one -- the poor woman was 9 months pregnant after all!) and there's no mention of other animals in the biblical narrative -- but sometimes a little creative licence gives us a fresh perspective.

THE DONKEY REMEMBERS

I never minded the weight. She was such a slight, young thing, even though she was swollen with the child inside. She seemed barely old enough to become a mother, but I guess that’s the way of it, isn’t it? She swayed with me as I walked, and never grabbed or pulled. He was different, older, had obviously knocked around the world a bit, and knew his hay from his thistles, as they say. But when they looked at each other, softly, shyly, there was something so delicate and tender between them that it was almost enough to warm me in the frosty air. And when they looked at each other like that it was as if the years flowed off him and onto her, he seemed awkward, uncertain, as if he wasn’t quite sure what she wanted from him, and she seemed completely at rest, as if all the clamour on the road around them never touched her at all.

The journey itself was uneventful, except it was rather slow, there were so many people going hither and yon, as if the whole world was moving house at once. And it was obvious that, for all her quiet ways, the lady couldn’t travel very fast. But he took good care of her, and of me, and every time he helped her back up onto my back he would look me in the eye and tell me to take care, because I was carrying the most precious thing in the world. I supposed that was what every father says – now I wonder ..

It was when we reached the town (and such a little town to be worth the bother of such a journey!) that things became less ordinary. Apparently there was some problem with where they were going to stay; several times the man knocked on doors, had a short, disappointing conversation and came back sadly. We would move to another street, another door, and the same thing would happen again. The lady had grown very quiet, very still, and I could almost feel her pain as her body tensed in silence. After several such conversations, he turned back, looked at her face and then asked, almost whispering, “Is it time?” She nodded, scarce able to speak, and he took her hand and held it for a long moment, then returned to the door that had just closed behind him and knocked again. This time I could hear an extra note of pleading that had not been in his voice before, and apparently the other person heard it too, for a long conversation followed. This time we did not set off down the street again, but went around the back of the building into a room. There were beasts stalled there, and clean straw, and hay in the manger. Everything I needed at the end of a long, hard day. I slept, ignoring the sounds of human bustle.

Hours later, in the cold quietness, the still-point of the night, I was woken by a new sound: the thin, sharp cry of a newborn human baby. The man was holding the child and a long strip of cloth and looking very awkward. “Here, let me do it,” said the woman softly, and proceeded to wrap the child firmly.

But something else was tugging at my senses and confusing me –a soft, faint sound of music. It seemed to be coming from the sky. “That’s ridiculous,” I thought to myself, but I was wrong. Ridiculous or not, it was happening. Soon it was beyond doubtful, every note came with silver clarity. It was the moment when I discovered that even a poor man’s donkey is capable of tears. And in bad moments since then, I have recalled the beauty of that music and found my way back to peace. To know that such music exists, and that it broke through into the world that night, is an incredible gift.

Just as the music was fading away, several men appeared – shepherds by the look of them. It was amazing enough to get any visitors in the cold, pre-dawn darkness, that shepherds should leave their sheep at such an hour, the hour of the wolf, was even more surprising. They were out of breath, and from the look of them they had probably run all the way from the fields.

The man and the woman looked up startled, and the man moved defensively in front of his wife and child. “What do you want?” he asked, grasping for his walking staff.
“We mean no harm,” said the foremost shepherd, still breathing hard.”We have come to see the child.” The man still looked defensive, but I was watching the woman’s face at that moment, and I saw her look up with wonder and sudden understanding. The shepherd, seeing the man still hesitate, went on talking, his tongue almost falling over itself in his eagerness to explain, as if the mere retelling of events would make new sense of them. It was a confusing story, full of angels, and God and someone called David, but one thing was obvious, this was no ordinary baby. Most babies do not have messengers coming down out of heaven to announce their birth. I felt a great wonder, but also a great fear, and as the lady lifted up the child to show them, I found myself kneeling down before the child. It was only some minutes later, when the moment had passed, that I realised that the other creatures there had done the same.

There is much I don’t fully understand, but that chilly night, in that dark little room, in such an ordinary, almost pathetic place, was the greatest moment of my life. I have seen holiness, and I was forever changed by the experience.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gardens

This week's challenge? A poem ending with the words "The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations"

1.
This first was named delight. Here grew
Beauty. The pristine morning of the world
Sang with the stars, and all was loveliness.
And in the centre grew the tree of pain
The place of choosing, there to choose awry:
Tears turned to acid, burned with bitter dust,
The clamour of great falling. Death. Decay.
The dizzy flailing of a flaming sword.

2.
Here olives grew and moonlight overwhelmed,
And in the shadows stood the terrible.
Death gaped and whispered through the echoing trees.
There was a dreadful shadow, as of thorns,
There was the cup of anguish offered, drunk,
And pure bright courage, trembling with great sweat,
Stepped forth near naked, only clothed in love
To be impaled upon the tree of life.

3.
Here now I cultivate amongst the thorns,
And choke upon the stubborn, eager weeds,
And bear the burden of the barren rocks,
The rage of sun, the sullenness of flesh,
The misery of dreams unrealised.
How shall your true fruit grow in stony ground?
How shall your spirit labour with my flesh,
To bear the beauty of yourself in me?

4.
And the last garden as a city comes
Dressed in her nuptial glory, without sun
Nor moon, nor death, nor any kind of pain.
The curse is gone, the living water flows
And he is on the throne, and we in him
To reign. And here one tree in glory grows
With never-failing fruit, and the leaves
Of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Patriarchy?

Most of you who know me already know that I am a Christian egalitarian. I respect my complementarian brothers and sisters, but disagree with their interpretation of scripture. However, when it comes to hyper patriarchy, I actually believe that it's something different from a variant nuance of interpretation.Excuse the strength of my language, but I really believe that "religion" that relegates women to being mere appendages of men, something less than fully human in their own right, is ultimately evil. This is what I wrote as a comment on another blog:

Y’know, re:#299, I actually believe that patriarchy is a religion, a false religion that goes right back to the fall and is demonic in origin. “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” — it’s a prediction of the grief which is to come. God created woman to be not just man’s ezer (help) but his ezer kenegedo — one who is an exact counterpart, standing side by side with him to build a kingdom of love and light. But it didn’t last

She who was to be by his side is now put under his thumb, and the richness they could give to one another is despised and disparaged. Power and control is worshipped, and man makes gods in his own image, instead of conforming to the image of God. He no longer wants a strong partner, he wants a child-wife, and every perversion follows, as lust becomes conjoined with the lust for power. He no longer trusts woman, so he has to defeat her. Wives and children are pawns in this game of power and dominion. Love grows cold and is replaced by the rage of the chronically insecure.

I actually believe that when Christians embrace patriarchy it is just as much syncretism as when Israel of old tried to worship both Baal and Yahweh. The Kingdom of God is not about who is the greatest, but about who is willing to serve.And it isn’t one morality for males and a different one for females. There aren’t pink and blue fruit of the Spirit.

This false religion is pernicious, and has tempted the human race right through history. The old religions worshipped phallic symbols as the ultimate expressions of god-like power — has anything changed?
“And I will set enmity between you (Satan) and the woman ..”

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tomorrow

Another writing challenge -- begin with the word "tomorrow" andset it in a time of change for the character

Tomorrow the plane will land and she will be in the far away country. She will be alone, gloriously, terrifyingly alone, and probably very, very lonely. But, be honest, when was the last time she wasn’t lonely? Their relationship was a farce, a bitter caricature of all that love is supposed to be; and she was never more alone than when he put his arms around her.

Truth hurts, and this truth hurt horribly, as if the whole world had played a mean, cruel joke on her. But it wasn’t the whole world, only him; yet, in that time, in that place, he had been her whole world, and she had thought all the rest of the world well lost in order to be his. And yet, even then, at the beginning, it had all been a monstrous lie, a cruel and pointless abuse of her trust. And what she felt most ashamed of now was not the things he had done to her (she knew the blame for that was solely, totally, his), but that she had been so gullible, so stupid. The counsellor had told her not to blame herself, that men like that were professional deceivers, but she had always prided herself on being intelligent and perceptive – perhaps it was her pride that was most deeply injured?

She owed that counsellor a lot, for relentlessly, almost brutally, she had kept naming his behaviour for what it was, using labels that sliced through many foggy layers of excuses. In the beginning he had made wonderful excuses for himself, spinning stories of such convincing pathos that she ended up feeling sorry for him when he victimised her; soon he had her so convinced that she made the excuses for him all on her own. She shook her head at the memory.

Tomorrow would be different: a new country, a new life – at least for a season, until she could forget, until she felt truly safe to return. Strange that she had never told him that the name he knew her by was not her legal name, the name written on her passport; that she had anglicised both her first and last names in order to fit in. Even her initials were different. And because he had so quickly isolated her from her family, he had never even realised her ethnic origin. Strange? Or some blessed gift of self-preservation? Now he could not stalk her, could not haunt her. She had cut and dyed the long hair he had insisted on, bought herself new clothes, and finally was beginning to convince herself that she was no longer that shamed, helpless, injured woman whose life had only begun to change one night when she desperately entered a hospital casualty department.

It was time to try and sleep, if sleep she could. Sleep had been one of the first casualties in that long maelstrom of emotion, and she was still regaining it. “I am safe, I am safe, “ she murmured, breathing in and out slowly, deliberately. Even money, whose lack so often shackled the abused, had been provided. Again, knowing and caring nothing about her wider family, he had not known of the old uncle who had recently died and left her a nice little legacy. She remembered with a shudder those days when she could not leave the house because he had taken the car and her wallet. She had been so helpless, just a punching bag to exercise his ego against. But never again – those days were finished, flushed away like the dirty water from an overdue bath. Her mouth could not resist twitching into a smile, and, amazed and delighted at her own sense of empowerment, she summoned the stewardess and requested a celebratory glass of champagne.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Other Side of East Street

On the other side of East street, the world changes. The streetlights are further apart, and eventually there are none. There are fewer buildings, and more trees. Soon there are no buildings at all. The undergrowth changes and the plants smell different. It’s a subtle change at first, but soon there’s no mistaking it. They no longer smell green, earthy, astringent, but spicy, slightly musky, oriental and mysterious, like a drug to the senses that both beckons and repels. And there is sound. At first it seems like the barely-there music of the wind in the leaves, but slowly it changes, rounds out into a subtle, chiming tune, and you realise that no normal forest could ever sound like that.

For now it is a forest. But strangely, you hadn’t noticed. You have walked right out of civilisation without even observing it, and that is more disturbing than anything else. You feel as if your own mind, your own senses, have played you traitor. And who, or what, else can you possibly trust in such a place? Nothing is more disorienting than being unable to trust yourself, especially when your self is what you have relied on all your life. You know longer know where you are.

At this point you have two choices. The most probable is that you will retreat, retracing your steps back to East street and beyond. This is called staying on the safe side. But maybe you are a little braver, or a little more desperate, or else there is nothing left for you to return to. So you keep going, further into this forest-becoming-jungle, and part of you is terrified, and part of you is excited (because without difference there can be no change), and part of you wonders whether this place is called Eden or Despair.

So you wander on, sometimes straight ahead; sometimes to one side or the other. There are constant changes in the landscape, but you cannot always explain or identify them. Instead you feel them. But by this stage you cannot turn back, even if you wished, for you no longer know the way. There are times when you long for the life you used to have, on the sunny side of the street; that is when you realise that this changed world has changed you as well. You are wilder, you are stronger, and you are weaker as well. Daily you grow weaker and weaker. You have never felt more alive, and you know that you are dying. Nothing here sustains the life that you had. It is only when you feel you can go no further, when you are literally crawling because you can no longer walk, that you come to the break in the trees.

In front of you is bare ground, rocky outcrops with a little grass between the stones, sloping upwards to a hill. At the top of the hill is a tree, so high that your eyes cannot follow it all the way up. It is the place of the Bleeding Man. He is there, waiting for you, calling you by name. You look at Him, and you cannot look away. You are dizzy with death, and as you look, you can no longer tell the difference between Him and yourself. You die. You are finally alive.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Purple

Just to answer the question, how does my favourite colour make me feel?

Here into mystery, without finality
Dim rich uncertainty, where I find rest.
Not in false confidence, arrogant impudence
Trusting truth’s immanence, waiting is best.

Fast through the dark’ning storm, keeping cold courage warm
‘Gainst the devouring swarm, here I shall stand;
Not knowing everything, under the shelt’ring wing
Where even sorrows sing, held by His hand.

Beauty is promise rare, silencing old despair,
His touch is everywhere, taking death’s sting.
For all eternity, freed from iniquity
In my entirety loved by my king.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Morning light

And every atom dances in the light
And every leaf is beautiful and whole
And every naked branch is waiting grace
And all breathes wonder in the morning’s dole.

Was yesterday so dull, so grey, so drear?
Today is benison enough for me,
Enough to know that freshness ever springs,
Enough to marvel at transparency.

Enough to know that light beyond all worlds
Shall one day shine, transfiguring all things
And while I wait, beneath this world’s cold rain,
My heart, with wild anticipation, sings.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sunset on a bleak day

Because today grew grey and cold, and then became transfigured ..

God, send such glory at the end of days!

So long bleak greyness, cold and unfulfilled
Lurched with unloveliness across our skies
And damped the spirit as it dulled the day.

So much I longed to find a brighter way!

Here, winter’s nadir breathed its misery
Season of shortened days and leafless tree
Night seemed to settle on the daytime skies

Then, at the dearth of dusk, a bright surprise!

Light, pink and golden, glorious and rare,
Shone underneath the clouds, transformed the air!
Beauty for ashes, joy when hope was dead,

May this be true for greater things instead!

May this poor life, so battered small and cold,
Not find the darkness deepen, growing old,
To stumble to such beauty, worth all praise

God, send such glory at the end of days!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Poem for Michael Jackson

No, I was never a fan (probably because I'm the wrong age group)but, as an icon of a broken world, he touched us all with his sad distorted life ..

Through the ice and bitter fire
Strangling heat of sad desire
Lay your heart upon the wire.

Yours the music that could soar
Snagged by the internal war:
While the vultures heaved and tore.

Torture self to seek relief
All unmade by misbelief.
Joy was stolen – who’s the thief?

All that knife and drug could do
Broken being to renew
Could not give love back to you.

Beauty with corruption dwells
Mirrored through a thousand hells
Thirsting deep for poisoned wells.

Only mercy, sharp and bright
Washes black and makes it white
Names the wrong and claims the right.

Now the pilgrimage is o’er,
Truth beyond the furthest door
Sifts the burdens that you bore.

You were tragedy writ strong
Truthlessness builds wrong on wrong
Bitter discord breaks the song.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Moon Speaks

This is my response to the latest Random Acts of Poetry at High Callings Blog
http://highcallingblogs.com/blog/rap-coming-home-to-voice/2255/
It's an exercise in taking on another voice, so I am speaking as the Moon.


THE MOON SPEAKS

Moved by the rhythms of my bondage
I twist my face away
Lest you see my frozen tears
Forbidden in waterless wilderness.

Can I sulk across the sky?

The stars do not speak to me
In alien cold glory,
For I lie too close to earth:
The glorious seductress
In dazzling shades of life.

First I look, then turn away.

Yet while I dance my great ambivalence,
There is one from whom my face can never turn,
Glory bright and constant
Whose wonder holds me fast;
Beauty that enthrals me through the singing years.

This I must worship,
Offering my humble rock to light.

They tell me that I shine.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Loving on ..

Because, in this world, it sometimes hurts to love ..

I have loved you without hope in my mouth
While the cold winds tears the last remaining leaves
And the skies grow drearer;
While the small things scuttle from me
And misery, flat on a stretcher,
Rides in to take the town –
I have loved you.

I have loved you when reason metamorphosed
And played strange tricks on my heart;
When the shape of things was changed,
And I learned new words for sorrow;
When Night kissed my lips and I had no aching answer.
When blackbirds perched on skeleton trees
Commanding the songs of Zion
In a death-mask jester’s voice –
I have loved you.

I have loved you when the crowds spun bitter laughter
In a noose to ambush you, and I could not, could not reach ..
Beating my fists against perspex impossibilities:
The dull, transparent wall flavoured with damnation,
And nowhere left to go.
When the stinging rain beat down,
And my beauty was bedraggled
To a sodden lump of ugly truth –
I have loved you.

I have loved you when poetry reverts to prose
And our prayers are a litany of scrubbing,
Kneeling on cold stone, ridiculously tender of the dandelions.
Mercy in mourners’ weeds goes by,
And barbarians beat at the gates.
There is no laughter then,
But a small bird singing
Its elevated anthems
In the shade of the last curled leaf –
Still I have loved you.

I have loved you in the land of unpossession
Where our empty hands are scarred,
Where the leaving is the holding, and the trust stays unbetrayed.
Here, where there are no rainbows,
And the garbage must be swept;
Where the temples are all empty,
And the idols overturned..
There I have loved you.

In the beloved country,
Where tears become our balm
And beauty is unassailable,
Heart never hid from heart –
I shall love you still.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Learning to say no

I have left the borders unguarded
Till my heart became a wasteland
Pitiful, pathetic,
The harvest of my hope.

Long the marauders played ,,

I had bound my own hands
In desperate obedience.
Silenced my screams,
While anger turned to guilt:
It was sin to own a dragon.

And the streams flow caustic tears ..

Now I hunger no indulgence
Limp-sitting in the shade,
Ears tight against cajolement.
Like Ulysses at the mast
Seeking another country
Where my bones can grow to stone.

I shall invite the dragon ..

Learning a different wisdom
Not the mother-tongue of shame.
The terrible risk of strength
Armed with adulthood.
I shall refuse the pirates
With their petty tales.
I am no spoiled garden.

I am guarded place.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Resurrection

I shall no longer shadow-lurk
In the dim, grim darkness,
In my manifold mortality:
He has rolled away the stone.

Here, eager-footed forwards,
Into laughter-chiming light
While the waves call alleluia
And the world is glory-glad.

Not looking back, tomb-tethered,
When His wonder stretches forth
Fluid as love Himself,
Deep as desire.

Someday, star-dancing,
All is finally finished,
Now, in this liminal loveliness
Learning faith’s footing.

Embrace awaits, at the end of the sand journey,
Plunging into Him,
Knowing Life lives, grace-cadenced,
In my Lord.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter

Oh that my bones could sing,
That my entrails could dance in extravagant worship
That I could tear the shrouding skies apart!

How, in the light of This Light,
Do I forget so quickly,
And get fooled by death again?

Here there is no mundane, no dull negation.
Entropy is reversed, and the stars remember,
The moment that glory broke through.

The hamsters’ wheel was broken,
The puppets’ strings removed
And the angels couldn’t keep away.

In flesh like mine He did it
Turning history inside out
Giving faith its solemn reason.

The day death died.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Home

My friend was tired. He needed to go home. What does 'home' mean to us at such moments? One day, each one of us, in Christ, will be able to truly come home.

Here the day’s load unbuttons. We slough off
Our formal faces and our rigid smiles
To curl ourselves in kindness like a snail.

Here, with ears shut to Hades’ hectoring,
We hear, instead, a softer, meeker tune
The rhythm of love kneeling down to serve.

Here we retreat from this world’s battering
Here we can laugh in honest, open fun
Eyes meeting eyes that smile and understand.

Here, so at rest we need no fancy dress,
Hands reach for hands across the gulf of self
And clasp, content to simply wait a while.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

If words were arrows

this isn't about anything, not directly anyway. (indirectly it always is, I suppose, since it came from somewhere. Just a writing exercise, following a "poetry prompt" -- if words were ...

If words were arrows,
I would lodge them in your heart,
Seeking to pierce the layers of confusion
That make our tongues so brittle.

If words were water,
I would let them trickle over you
Bringing sweet refreshment,
Wearing holes in stone.

If words were fire,
I would burn away indifference;
Melt your icy coldness,
And fuse our understandings.

If words were seeds,
I would plant them in your arid places
And let their roots run deep,
To dislodge solid stone.

But my words are only vapours,
The helpless shapes of breath
Dispersing into nothingness
With the breeze of your small shrug.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

To one who hurts

Not sure how to explain this. I have had several friends suffering this week, one in particular very close to my heart. Sometimes I don't even know how to pray for them, simply hurt for them. But I believe that I can join my inadequate, broken love to the perfect love of God for them, until my longing for their healing, given back to Him, becomes a prayer for them (I'm struggling for words here)..

This my love
Reaches blindly
To enclose you in my soul
To shelter you from the sun by day
And the moon by night.
To stretch beyond my limitations
And hold your heart secure.

This I cannot do.
In my human smallness
In my broken wisdom
How can I contain your mystery?

I would carry pain for you
Heartbeat by heartbeat
Measuring your pace
Breath for breath enduring
In this tense and aching silence ..
Would you even know?

Pain cannot be divided
For my power is as zero.

But I will take this longing
And become a prayer
Seeing Perfect Love once more
Nailed to our agony.
I will nail my soul to Him
To His dereliction binding;
Letting grace flow through
The tatters of my straining
As He holds the world,
And you;
Healing in His wounds.

Monday, March 16, 2009

You are my inheritance ..

And You are my inheritance.

Not in the musty attic
Of a tired imagination
Where we keep forgotten playthings:
Our old, outgrown gods.

Nor in the best room, on display,
Inside grandma’s glass cabinets
Or stacked on modern shelves
The challenging conversation piece
To which friends must respond.

Nor in the family room:
Knocked about and battered,
Sat on by the children,
Worn and torn.
Misused for years, then broken carelessly,
And tossed out and replaced.

Nor in the kitchen
Hoarded and not shared,
Greedily devoured
In a moment’s desperate hunger,
And souring inside.

But in the intimate rooms
Where I hold you close
And you hold me, promising,
That oneday, someday
I can come to Your house
And stay forever ..

… lodged in living light.

Friday, March 13, 2009

No monsters here

Things are not always what they seem, and people who live by denial will end up, so sadly, paying a heavy price ..

There are no monsters here – the day burns bright
The peerless sun glides through the matchless sky
And all is clear, drenched in revealing light,
And nothing hides, no lingering shadows lie.

Here, crystal tea parties upon the lawns
And ladies in pale dresses sit at ease
And crystal conversation, soft, adorns,
The social sweetness everybody sees.

Here smiles come ready made and laughter clinks
Like silver spoons in teacups going round
In dervish motion, and the sugar sinks
In liquid silence, crystalline and drowned.

Keep your nails short, lest talons should rip through
This painted canvas, beautifully displayed
Make sure, make sure, in everything you do,
That all your anguished efforts are repaid.

Intact! Intact! Here let no rudeness thrust
Through these defences, brittle and so dear.
You hold it all together, for you must
How else can you believe it is sincere?

How else? How else? The monsters stay below
In careful crafted caves beneath the ground.
We only see the things we choose to know:
Nothing distasteful, darkened or unsound.

And who, in this bright landscape so desired,
Knows what those banished monsters darkly do.
Or where they lurk in corners old and tired,
To wait the hour when they devour you?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Let down ..

because we have all had those moments when we felt betrayed or devalued ..

The eyes that turn away
The words that dodge and weave
I know I am betrayed,
I falter, shrink and grieve.

Like flowers thrown aside
Before their scent is done
My offering is despised
My moment overrun.

I shape my public face
The while my heart descends
Into a bitter place –
And the bright world pretends.

I learned long, long ago,
To hide my strickenness
To cover up the shame
Of vulnerable distress.

Yet in the hidden depths
I wrestle with the pain
Of wearing once again
Rejection’s burning stain:

Is everything I am
And everything I do
Uselessly offered up?
They’ve turned to something new!

Yet, oh my Lord and God
Here in this breaking place
I garner shards of me
And lift them up to grace

Lift them up to the One
Who was despised and torn.
From Whom their faces turned,
Whose crown was pressing thorn.

Here I will yield my pain
Here will let go my load
Out of this lonely hurt
Into the hands of God.

Here where the Crucified
Bore even worse for me
I will lean in on Him
Sharing this agony.

Here I will know Him more
Than in the sunlit hour
Learning His perfect love
Held by His hidden power.

And as the waves of pain
Crash on my breathless shore
He will hold fast to me
And I will know Him more.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

education and learning

Learning and education

Well, I’m 1 ½ weeks into my masters course, and, not surprising, feeling slightly overwhelmed. I expected this, I knew that I was breaking into a whole new subject area, since my previous degree was in theology, the half-a-degree I dropped out of in 1975 was in Social Work (covering a little sociology, anthropology, psychology, and, thrown into the mix, a year of Italian, which I did as a general arts subject because someone told me that no one ever failed it). At school, back in the dark ages, I did high level maths and physics because I had to (that was my father) but my joy was in English. And here I am studying Adult Education .. (No wonder I keep asking God what he’s up to in my life – I can’t see the pattern).

But you see, I expected most of the overwhelm to be purely intellectual – learning the jargon and thinking and methodology of an entire new discipline. And, of course, dealing with that little voice inside me that now has to acknowledge that I got through my undergrad degree, but seriously questions whether I’m capable of doing a Masters. Mostly I try to ignore it! What I was not prepared for was the personal impact of some of this stuff – already! I think back over myriad bible studies etc and question the relative agency of “teacher” and “learner” – who sets the agenda? I immediately see that this is why my husband and I have never been able to co-lead – our natural styles fall at very different points along the continuum.

I read about a guy called Freire and his educational philosophy, kind of the educational equivalent of liberation theology, and realise that this process (labelled by some as “insurrectionary”) was exactly the process of self-education I was unconsciously using as a child to distance myself from the “dominant culture” of a dysfunctional family. I’m still processing that one. Then I find myself reading about the next guy’s approach and find myself saying, “Ah! An admixture of Skinner and Piaget!” I haven’t studied either of those guys since 1975 – what vault of memory was that locked away in?

And of course, since one of my conscious goals in doing this course was to work out better teaching methods in the church, I already find myself critiquing the approaches of various people and institutions that I know (since a little knowledge is a dangerous thing). I don’t think we’ve done very well (and I’m thinking denominationally here) in working out how to teach absolute truth in a way that empowers the learner, instead of leaving them with a sheep-ish undiscriminating dependence on the “experts”? How do Jesus’ teaching methods compare in this respect? When did we lose that incredible balance?

Hmm .. I’d better go read some more ..

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ordinary saints

Please do not misunderstand me, I am not for one moment putting down theology, or wrestling intellectually with the hard questions. These things are good and necessary, in a world of wolves the shepherds must be wise to protect the sheep. But let us never mistake theory for practice, or learning for living.

I am in awe of ordinary saints,
Those who do not construe or exegete
But walk in faith and walk in faithfulness,
And love their Lord.

These are the ones who pray because they must
Because they have no life outside of Him
Because they know their weakness is His strength
And love their Lord.

They do not blaze with end-time arguments
They have enough to do to live each day
Still yielding to the long obedience
To love their Lord.

They do not argue on inerrancy
They simply treat His Word as their command
And yield their hearts in all simplicity
And love their Lord.

They are the ones who serve, the ones who give,
The ones who worship, naming Him as God,
Who rest in faith upon His promises
And love their Lord.

They are the ones for whom their King shall come
They shall be raised in wonder, love and awe
They shall rejoice to see Him as He is
And love their Lord.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Shredded by the Stars

Stars have always been a powerful symbol to me of beauty and perfection. When I was in my early teens, the beauty of the stars was one of the things that helped me believe in the reality of God. I was (and am) incapable of believing that such glory is happenstance. But beauty is dangerous too -- it shows us up, revealing sin and death and finitude. ..

I am shredded by the stars;
The sharpness of their glory
Lacerates my questing soul.

See their cold perfection
Utterly destroy me,
Revealing hidden darkness
And unravelling conceit.

Must all beauty be my death?

Take me apart then,
Let me be refashioned.
Let the frozen tears start flowing
To acknowledge all the pain.
Let me look beyond the stars ..

Beyond this beauty .. Beauty Himself ..
Descending into darkness ..
And returning.

Let me be unafraid
Of the small deaths, the unmaking;
Tear the terrible wound wide open
Let all beauty sear and sheer
Until I know that Death is dead
And I walk in killing gladness
… meeting Love.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Prayer from an Old Diary

Cleaning out some old papers I came across a prayer diary I kept for a while in 1991, when I was dealing with some pretty heavy stuff in my life. Skimming through it I came across this (edited slightly for context):


Quicken Your Spirit within me, my Father, that Your transforming power might be at work in me, even in this impossible situation.

In the midst of turmoil, saturate me with Your peace
In the midst of my pain, be a wellspring of joy within me
In the midst of rejection, let me rest upon Your love
In the midst of injustice, make me steadfast in longsuffering
In the midst of provocation, keep me gentle
In the midst of change and confusion, hold me in Your faithfulness
In the midst of evil, let me be a channel of Your goodness
In the midst of persecution, help me be glad in meekness
In the midst of passion and self-indulgence, temper me with the Spirit’s fruit of self-control.

I am not these things, but You are, and there is my sufficiency.
To look for fulfilment in any other place is frustration and futility.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Trying On Old Jewellery

The other day I was going somewhere, and trying to work out what would make that particular outfit "look right", I tried on some old jewellery I had at the back of the cupboard. i was shocked at how "yuck" it was -- some years ago I used to wear those things regularly! Part of it is fashion of course, but part of it goes much deeper ..


I am no more the girl who wore these things,
This coloured plastic: dated, dull and plain,
The sum of all I ever dared aspire.

I dreamed small dreams, that me of way back when,
Scared of the risk of pride I huddled close
Hiding both hope and fear behind a mask
Of littleness, and drab and careful thoughts.

I am no more that girl, the one afraid
To be the thing she is, the thing I am,
To be myself in all my brokenness,
To learn to sing my hidden, secret song,
To let both tears and laughter freely flow.

Yes, she is me but not me. I still wear
Her wounds, carry her fears, name the old pain,
Taste the old shame that kept her caged so long.
But not me. By some precious, precious grace,
I have escaped, have found my flimsy wings
And dare await the Spirit wind to lift.

I stand entire within that timeless place
Which I have not yet reached.
I can aspire
Towards that beauty which shall one day be
And even now I trust that grace for me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Not my way ..

Lead me through darkness, for my way is known to You.
You have counted the hairs on my head and the sands of time,
Seen the end from the beginning, and adorned each brittle flower.

My ways are not Your ways, but I how would they were,
That love, like the alchemist’s stone, would touch my leaden heart,
Transmuting it to malleable gold.

My ways lead to futility, I cannot what I would.
In me dwells no good thing, except You dwell in me,
Then am I satisfied, for I shall wake up in Your likeness.

I am a child, Your child, still small in incompleteness
I must lean on You and learn, for You are my only wisdom,
My way, my Truth, my Life, Yourself my whole fulfilment.

So, not my way, but Yours; there is my hope, my freedom,
In the centre of Your will, where mystery turns to meaning,
In my heart’s most hidden place, continue Your redeeming.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

32 years ago -- some recollections

January 14, 1977. It was a hot muggy night, with small thunderstorms hovering around. I had not had much to do all day, since the wedding wasn’t till 6:30 that evening. In those days, unless you were rich, you did your own hair, makeup etc. So there weren’t all those trips to hairdressers etc which seem to keep modern brides so busy. I was a young, sheltered 22 year old who had a lot of growing up to do.

My bridesmaids were my 2 sisters, then aged 17 and 12. My mother had run up their dresses – simple floral dresses as suited their age. Again, we did things much more cheaply then. I was impatient, I just wanted to get the whole thing over and done with. I wasn’t the sort of girl who had spent her life dreaming of her wedding day, to me a wedding was just what you had to go through in order to get married. I was a virginal bride, innocent enough to assume most brides were, I wanted to marry this man, and a wedding was the process you went through to do that. So, while I wanted it to be “nice”, and I was certainly girl enough to want to look good for my bridegroom, to me the whole ceremony was a means to an end, not the end itself. The important part wasn’t the walking down the aisle, or the posing for photographs, the important part was the part that said, “till death us do part”.

I honestly don’t remember many details of the ceremony (come on, it WAS 32 years ago!!). At that time the Anglican church was in the process of discarding the 1662 prayerbook and bringing in more modern forms of service, but had not yet produced a definitive new prayerbook. So the form of service was the one the minister chose, one of the forms of service floating round at the time. We had no say in any of that, our choice was restricted to the Bible reading (Ephesians 3:14-19), and the hymns ( Praise my soul the King of heaven, and Take my life and let it be) OK, I didn’t have the popular choices of the time (! Corinthians 13 and O Perfect Love), not because I didn’t like them, but because everybody else had them, and I wanted this to be our wedding, not a carbon copy. My uncle gave me away (silly expression, he’d never owned me!) because my father had died suddenly 8 months previously. I don’t even know the wording of the vows we used (except that they didn’t say “obey” – something which was immaterial to me then, but important now.) what I do remember is the wedding vow I made in my heart, that I would do him good and not evil all the days of my life (Proverbs 31:12) That is the one I have tried to keep.

The reception was a blur – it wasn’t my choice it was my mother’s. I would have been happy with a few sandwiches in the church hall, just to say “Hi, thanks for coming”, but my mother insisted we had to have a proper “reception place”, so we could, but, considering my mother’s widowhood and our fairly penniless state, we chose the cheapest one in the area. ‘Nuff said.

I married a penniless full-time med student. We didn’t want to wait the extra 10 months till he graduated, so we ended up arranging the whole wedding in 11 weeks. Easy. I just don’t get what bridezillas fuss about.  I had dropped out of uni the year before and got a basic clerical job (which I never enjoyed) because one of us had to be earning to pay for the roof over our heads. I quit the moment he became an intern and started earning, and have not been back in the paid workforce since. So, remarkably in this day and age, we have always been a one income family.

So where are we now? 32 years older (self-evidently) and living about 10 minutes drive from where we started. The med student has become a successful gastroenterologist, with a thriving practice and a young partner. The bride has weathered the mothering years, storms of abuse issues, the ordinary griefs of life, and finds herself, at 54, looking around with some astonishment. When did it all happen? I now have 2 wonderful kids, older than I was when I got married, plus a lovely daughter in law. The dropout finds herself with a theology degree, the painfully shy girl finds herself a preacher, the dreamer finds herself with new dreams. The one with zero domestic skills is a proficient and rather original cook (my husband tries to tell me he’s never had the same meal twice – that’s not true, but hey, there are always subtle variations. ) I have taught him to appreciate the theatre and art galleries, he has taught me to appreciate cricket, and given up trying to convince me that there is anything to appreciate in football. I’m just temperamentally allergic to it! I can sing in tune, he can’t; he is good with his hands and I have 10 thumbs. I’m an indoor girl who loves poetry, books and long conversations, he loves getting outdoors and is the master of the two minute phone call. We both love birdwatching. He is a doctor, I’m the one who’s had health issues (not sure this last one is exactly complementarity!) His spiritual gift (according to a thingy we did at church once) is hospitality, but I’m the one who has to do the cooking. His background is firmly Presbyterian, I am an Anglican, sacramental and at least semi-charismatic. In Myers-Briggs terms, he is ESTJ, I am INFP. In other words not a single trait in common. But M-B don’t measure things like I make jokes and he laughs at them, or that he is steady and predictable, and I constantly catch him by surprise. He never knows where my next thought is coming from (neither do I). He is very into family and tradition, I am into friends and embracing new ideas. He is SUCH a morning person, I am a creature of evenings. More than one friend has commented to me the fact that such extreme opposites are still married is substantial proof of the grace of God. I say that after all the hard yards we’ve earned ourselves a nice dinner out!

And I’m so thankful that all our days are in God’s hands and not entrusted to ours – we would have dropped and broken everything!!

Monday, January 12, 2009

five question quiz




Your Word is "Peace"



You see life as precious, and you wish everyone was safe, happy, and taken care of.

Social justice, human rights, and peace for all nations are all important to you.



While you can't stop war, you try to be as calm and compassionate as possible in your everyday life.

You promote harmony and cooperation. You're always willing to meet someone a little more than halfway.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Bundeena Ferry

A few days ago, while my husband was still on his Christmas break, we drove to the beachside suburb of Cronulla (about 20 minutes drive away) and caught the ferry across the Port Hacking River to the little town Of Bundeena, in the Royal National Park. It was a fun trip, but for some reason I got it into my head to want to compare that trip to that other journey across a river, the one portrayed so well at the end of Pilgrim's Progress. The thought has stayed with me, and this is the result ..

Of course I have just now noticed that my first blog post of the year was on the subject of emotional abuse, and my second one on death. Should I be concerned? :)

THE BUNDEENA FERRY

That will be no reversible excursion
No pleasure trip with cameras bags and hats
Only the roiling of the bitter tide
The final coldness .. and awaiting glory.

Summer smiles.
The children clamber, chatter, drop their things
Laughter and conversation fill the boat,
The very waves are small and kind today
Sweet is the stranger’s camaraderie.

Not so that journey.
That other river, bourne of dreadful fear
Where we must go alone, alone, alone
Without a boat or easement of the way
Down where the waters close above one’s head.

The river must be crossed.

There comes a time
At the end of land, with nowhere left to go,
When the river must be crossed.

Rivers are not alike, they vary greatly:
Size, speed, the time of year, the weather’s mood,
And still, and still, the ferry boats go forth.

I can plan my journey.
Pick a fair day, an easy pleasant passage,
Sit back, anticipate the other side,
And pay my fare, a little, easy sum,
And lack for nothing, taking what I will.

The other river
Cannot be planned, controlled, or promised sweet,
And, Oh my Lord, the fare cost everything!
(Nor could I pay it from my bankruptcy)
I do not know the hour when I must go,
How inconvenient or terrible,
I only know who waits the other side
And how my whole heart yearns to be with him ..

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Emotional abuse

yet another themed poem on abuse. We all recognise emotional abuse when it comes with violent words and blatant cruelty, but what about the subtle abuse by someone who just ignores a child or partner's essential humanity?

Death by a thousand papercuts
The little words that prick
Disdainful eyes that cannot see
The “harmless” gibes that stick.

The ground that opens up beneath
Each step you try to take
The confidence that swallows yours
The strength-destroying ache.

The trust confused, the hope abused,
The truth that won’t stay still
The conscience tangled hopelessly
To guilt-trip your own will.

The “love” that doesn’t satisfy
The “help” that undermines
The mockery that tarnishes
Each little dream that shines.

The overwhelming weariness,
The ebbing of the soul
The strain of living in a world
Where nothing’s clear and whole.

The tears, the sodden helpless tears,
And yet not cried in vain
The silent rage with God and man
The enervating pain.

And not by easy platitudes
The broken souled are blessed.
And yet, and yet, the God of grace
Is near to the oppressed