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