Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Invitation

Challenge for the week: a piece of writing inspired by this picture

Follow me. I know you are afraid. You do not think you are seaworthy. You do not know where I am taking you. You do not know why you must make this journey at all. It is so much easier to stay on the shore, that’s where everyone else is. But you know that it is not enough, your very soul is hungry. The sand rubs your inmost being raw, its grit distresses you; you look around at the others who are so happy on the sand and think it is your own fault, your own oversensitivity, that you are bleeding when others are playing. But it is because I have called you, and I will not cease from calling until you come.

This is not your home, not anymore. The anguish you are feeling is not craziness, it is a divine discontent. I am your home, I am your safety, and I am the only way you will ever reach that home and safety. Follow me.

You look at your ship, and you can count off its inadequacies. You are convinced it will sink, and you are so afraid of drowning. Did you not know that at my command your very feet could skim the waves? Did you not know that I am the one who commands the tempests and can still the storms? And did you not know that you are safer out on the deep ocean in my care than you could ever be in the shallows on your own?

I am your heart’s desire. I am the currents that move you and the wind that fills your sails. I am your harbour, your destination, and the glory that waits for you on the further shore. I am the wild music of the seabirds’ cries that pulses a strange new rhythm through you. You fear the storm on the ocean’s deeps, but there will never be peace for you anywhere else. This sand that you trickle through reluctant fingers – is it worth so much more to you than to sail forth in my fellowship? Follow me.

You cling to so much that cannot last anyway. You mistake familiarity for safety. You are numb to your own pain, you have carried it for so long, and you do not even know that you are crippled. But I see and I know. Where you cannot go, I will take you, and the very waters which you dread will be the waters that bear the weight you cannot carry yourself, and bring you home.

Come deeper, deeper; there is a whole world beyond the horizon, a world I created for the sheer joy of knowing I would one day share it with you. I want to see the wonder in your eyes when the morning breaks upon the waves, I want to feel you lean close into me when the winds rise strong and fierce; I want to see you gain your sea legs and learn to navigate with my glory as your only star. Set sail, cast off into the deep, and see where I will take you. Let me be your courage where your own falls short. Follow me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

On Seeing Van Gogh's Starry Night

The heavens sing: this is their blazing joy
Break forth! Break forth! In wonder uncontained
Sing with the beauty only artists see
Even our soiled world speaks of the unstained.

Here our fragility, our broken toil
Scarce dares to raise its eyes, for once it knew
Beauty and glory will not be denied
Splendor, in white-hot wonder, slicing through

All the dark hiding places of the soul.
This will not let self-pity weave its web
Of darkness, to entrap us in ourselves,
Let go the old defences, let them ebb.

Only the brave man, with his soul undone
Paints with a frenzy of the joy that’s seen
But not yet tasted. This can drive men mad:
The desperate hunger for what could have been.

Yes, there is resolution, but not here,
And not too soon, we first must drink our need,
And own there is a light no night can dim
And it is placed beyond our grasping greed.

Yes! Let the stars be symphonies of light,
Let midnight glow and burn with radiance,
Heaven’s hilarity must overflow
And called the burned and broken ones to dance.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Saving a worm

"Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are"
-Add to the Beauty, Sara Groves

She was a worm. It was the smallest thing she knew how to be and be safe. Ants were smaller, but definitely not safe, always scurrying around out in the open. She wanted small, dark, still and invisible. She would be a worm. Nobody noticed worms, they burrowed into the darkness and everyone forgot about them. Worms were good hiders.

They were yelling again. She hated the anger in their voices and the cruelty in their words. She hated that it wouldn’t stop at yelling. Someone would get hurt. Someone was always getting hurt. She didn’t want to get hurt. That was the biggest thing she knew how to wish for: that it would all just go away, and leave her in peace. Not-hurting was the highest joy she could imagine. She crawled under the bed. Would it work this time? “I am only a little worm,” she whispered to herself.
Once she had seen inside a grave. It was dark there, and she could see a worm burrowing back into the fresh-turned soil. It looked so safe. Maybe dead would mean not hurting any more. She knew where the graveyard was – down the next corner and round behind the little yellow church. She knew she was not supposed to cross the road on her own, but she wouldn’t get into trouble if nobody saw her.

There was a scream, and a crash that sounded like broken glass. Under the bed was not safe enough; it was time to find somewhere better. It was too dangerous to go to the door, they would see her on the way, but if she could just open her bedroom window, and climb onto the sill from the bed it wasn’t far to the ground. All she needed was to take her little blanket so she could cover herself up.
The drop hurt more than she expected, and the world looked so different at night, but it was still a lot less frightening than what she was leaving behind, so she resolutely got up and took slow, careful steps towards the gate. She was just tall enough to unlatch it, and she knew to draw it quietly closed behind her so that it would not bang and be heard.

There was no traffic, and the night was dark and cold and clear. She crossed under a streetlamp, looking both ways as she had been taught, but crouching down low as she ran across the open space. She was safe if she stayed a worm.
The gate to the churchyard was locked, and for a moment that frustrated all her plans. She very nearly cried, but she was used to holding back her tears. Quietness was safety. Then she saw a space under the fence that was just big enough for her to crawl through. Of course, isn’t that what a worm would do?
It was a strange place at night, wanly lit by the streetlights beyond between dark pools of unidentifiable shadow, oddly comforting in its very darkness. It never occurred to her that anything here could be more frightening than what she had left behind; the darkness had always been her friend. She found herself a place on the ground, where fallen leaves had filled in a hollow place beneath the bushes, wrapped herself in her beloved blanket and quickly fell asleep. She could not remember ever feeling so safe before.

It took a moment for the voices to wake her – they were soft and gentle, not at all what she was used to. She was lifted in strong arms, put in a car and taken to what she was later told was a hospital, where more strong, quietly spoken people undressed her, touched her, said sorry when it hurt her, and spoke to each other in slow, sad voices. There were bright lights, and lots of people, but even though she couldn’t be a worm here, she didn’t feel unsafe. They asked her lots of questions and she was proud that she could give them her name and address, and tell them exactly why it was so important to become a worm. One of the ladies, dressed like a nurse, seemed to be crying. That was strange; she’d never seen anyone cry about worms before.

They said she would have to stay in hospital, and then they would find her a new family. She heard them talking to each other using words like “mess”, disaster”, and “too late to save them”. She had no idea what had happened, but it didn’t worry her very much. Someone gave her a big cuddly yellow rabbit, she tasted chocolate, and she learned that there were shows for children on tv, not just grown up stuff. One afternoon a blonde lady who smelled like flowers came and told her that she would be her new mother as soon as she left hospital. “Will I have to be a worm anymore?” she asked.

“No, sweetheart,” said the nurse who had cried who was standing in the room. “I think you’re going to become a butterfly.”

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Her one regret ..

The one thing she regretted was the other children. To know that her own was safe and well, and that the others probably would have been too if it wasn’t for her son, was troubling. It seemed so short a time ago that she had been living a “normal” life, and expecting nothing less. Like most girls she sometimes got irritated with the amount her mother expected around the house, and nervous about her planned marriage (would he be kind? Would she feel completely and totally loved? Would he still be pleased with her when he really got to know her?), but life was fairly easy really. She knew what to expect, she was among friends and neighbours she had known all her life, dear and familiar, and the Law of her people seemed good and right to her. She had dreamed of something more of course, she was a sensitive and imaginative girl, but she had been reared to plainness and responsibility, and never expected the deepest longings of her heart to come out and walk the earth in the ordinary light of day.

But they had, and everything was changed forever. And in that moment of total change, not only had her life been caught up and transformed, but her understanding of God, and His real values and intentions would never be the same again. She had expected an ordered universe, where every aspect of life could be regulated and codified, or at least explained, only to discover that the very One who had created it all and given them the Law was the same one who delighted to turn all expectations upside down, to lift up the lowly and pull down the proud..

But where, in this new understanding, could she fit the deaths of these children, who just happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time? At first she had not wanted to believe the rumours that came to them, but the grim look on her husband’s face confirmed that he found them all too believable. After all, there was good reason why they had been warned to flee, this was a king who would tolerate no rivals for the throne that was his glory and his torture. But they were beyond his jurisdiction here, and he, no doubt, believed that his infant rival had been destroyed in that terrifying night of violence. Why, God, why? Why was it necessary that others should die so that her son should live?

It made no sense. Must violence and hurt and horror always appear when the grace of God shone forth into the world? Must the innocent die so that righteousness could be fulfilled? Was this strange, marvellous son of hers going to be someone other people would have to die for? That was all back to front. The gods of other nations were like that, bloated parasites of wood and stone who sucked the very lifeblood from their people. It was the cruel greed of human idolatry that had slaughtered those little ones, the idolatry of a half-crazed king for his precarious throne. But this, her God, the true God, was not like that. Her son was not like that. Instead he had become vulnerable flesh and blood, and he had come to give, not to take. Her mind shied away from completing the analogy. Could it be that He had come to give his very lifeblood? Instead of men dying for their gods, God Himself would die for man? It was too shocking, too enormous to fit her mind around. She was not yet ready to engage with such a thought. And besides, he was her little first-born son, and she would give all that she was to guard his life.