Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Georgia O'Keeffe

How you disturb me:
The curve of your flowers,
The intimate spaces,
Where beauty detours;
The visceral spaces
Vicissitude traces,
Engaging. Engulfing
And yet love endures.

Through light and darkness
The spirit, not soaring,
But delving, in wonder,
To compass the small.
Near is the courage
And fearless the forging:
Owning, and gaining
And compassing all.

What are you saying?
To whom are you speaking?
How you do challenge
And make your paint sing!
Nothing is static,
Arrived, or arriving.
Journey to stillness,
But carry a sting!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Psalm of a Sydney Winter

I give thanks for skies so blue I get lost in their beauty;
For the slantwise sunlight, adorning every leaf;
For the golden blaze of wattle in the nadir of the year;
For brave, bright camellias with polished leaves;
For the cosiness of bed and the astringency of rising;
For the brilliant flash of lorikeets and white clown cockatoos;
For the dew that falls like blessing.

I praise your name for the laughter of kookaburras
Adorning the morning air;
For nights that wrap the house like a blanket,
Like the strong arms of your love;
For buds on bare branches, and the promise of renewal;
For nature’s downtime, the respite,
The pause between the songs;
For clear night skies a-thrum
With the alien melodies of stars,
Sharp as crystal,
Piercing the soul with beauty.

I thank you that, as seasons turn,
We see new aspects of your glory,
New ways to sing your praise.
I thank you that the seasons of austerity
Carry their hidden beauty:
Flowers of another spring
Pressed between the pages of our lives,
Promising the Spring that ends all winters.
I thank you that the sun and moon
Shall not cease in their rising till he comes:
The Son of Righteousness
Who rises
That the whole world may be healed.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Robber's Tale

I will tell you the truth, I never expected to come to a good end. From my childhood I was one of those boys marked out for trouble, running wild and getting into bad company. It would be easy to blame all my family’s woes on the Roman tax system, but the truth is (and I can admit that now after years and years when my scalding hatred of Rome was the thing that propelled me on), my parents were wastrels, lazy, careless and concerned for nothing but their own immediate gratification. If they had been very rich, perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered so much, or perhaps they would have plunged even faster into every kind of degradation. I know now that, while Rome certainly isn’t blameless (all kingdoms except one squeeze as much as they can out of the people at the bottom), it was only the catalyst that hastened my family’s inevitable destruction. But my parents blamed Rome for every bad thing that happened, and, as a child, I believed them. It is always easier to blame an external enemy.

So I grew up without a trade, without an inheritance, and with a deep anger burning in my heart. Is it any wonder that I gravitated towards the rebels and the robbers. Truth to tell, we were nothing more than a band of brigands, carving out our own little niche on the Jerusalem-Jericho road, which was infested with our kind, but we told ourselves that we were nobly resisting Roman rule, striking a blow for freedom; and we were foolish enough to believe our own lies. In fact we rarely attacked Romans of any kind, they were far too well defended. It was our own people, and heedless foreigners that we usually attacked, telling ourselves that they wouldn’t be rich enough to steal from if they weren’t collaborating with Rome. It is extraordinary the lengths we will go to so that we can justify ourselves and be heroes in our own imaginations, when the squalid truth was that we were simply criminals.

Of course I ended up getting caught, I wasn’t nearly as clever as I thought I was, and in one of the periodic clearances of the area I didn’t get away fast enough. Then I languished in prison until my execution date was set. I had time to do a lot of thinking then, being forced to sit still and quiet for once in my life, and some of my realisations really made me squirm. I got chatty with some of the guards and began to realise that perhaps these Roman soldiers didn’t exactly have the wonderful life I’d always envied. They also told me news of what was going on in the city (conversation helps pass the time, even for a guard) and inevitably I started hearing about Jesus, the teacher from Nazareth. I was fascinated.

The day came for my execution. Any man would be terrified of crucifixion, and I was no exception. As we walked the streets to Golgotha I noticed the crowds and realised it must be Passover. I had lost count of the days, and, anyway, whoever heard of keeping Passover in a robber’s den? So much for our allegiance to our own people!

Everyone knows the horrors of crucifixion, I don’t need to go there. It was only after I was strung up there in agony that I realised, from the things that the crowd were saying,  that the man on the cross next to me was Jesus. I looked at him, I looked at myself, and noticed the difference. But mostly I looked at him, even in my extremity, I couldn’t tear my eyes away. And when the thief on the cross on the other side started mocking him as well, it was too much. With a last surge of my own anger, I said, “Don’t you fear God? We are under the same sentence, be we deserve our punishment. This man has done has done nothing wrong!”

And as I said those words, understanding came. I do not know fully who he is or what he is doing, but I knew enough. And I knew that all my life I had misunderstood everything. I turned to him, and the tears in my eyes were no longer from the pain. Brokenhearted, with no more pride, no more anger I simply begged, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.

He looked me fully in the eye and replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 It is almost the end. My agony will be over soon. But I am no longer afraid. I am with Jesus.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

No Continuing City

And the desert stretches bare,
Lean and dry in finitude
And all the harsh winds howl
In our solitary decrepitude.

And the waves of time crash over
Our crumbling fortress towns
We gather lonely rags
And name them wedding gowns.

And the weariness we feel
With cycle, rinse, repeat,
Is clamour in our ears
And cruel stones to our feet.

And the cities that we build
All fall down into dust:
The pain we cannot name
That undermines our trust.

Each stone, each bitter stone,
Transmutes the living heart
To desolation’s rock:
Dead so it cannot smart.

And every word we speak
And every hope we dream
Is built upon the sand
To silence our heart’s scream.

And yet there is a place
Beyond our farthest sight
Where crash no alien seas,
Where falls no fearsome night.

A place no terrors shake
No entropy dismays:
A place whose very stones
Sing forth their Maker’s praise.

From heaven like a bride
Its glory shall come down
The city nought can shake
God’s Self its cornerstone.

And we who trembling walk
The desperate wilderness
We seek the city built
Upon His faithfulness.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Walk softly

Walk softly with great love, walk softly.
Be tender, do not trample those beneath you.
Let the bruised and the broken
Be the burden of your heart
Walk softly.
Be aware, aware,
Aware.
Be merciful, giving honour,
Be aware.
Let their cries become your cry
In the mystery of faith.
Walk softly.

Dance wildly into joy, dance wildly.
Let the bright winds catch your hair.
Move to the rhythm of the angels’ song
Here, in the cold plains of exile.
Be aware,
Always,
Dancing wildly,
Making room
For the Kingdom
And the Glory
In the measure of your steps,
In the Hope that sets you singing.
Dance wildly.

Kneel quietly, entering prayer, kneel quietly.
Know your own smallness, and be glad,
For our weakness is His strength.
Be Spirit-winged.
Be aware,
Always,
Kneeling quietly
In the sanctum of your heart,
Breathing grace
And trust,
Surrendering,
Kneel quietly.
  
Run firmly in your race, run firmly,
Do not turn aside for golden apples
Thrown by weak desires
And secret follies.
Be aware,
Always,
Running firmly.
Knowing who is your goal,
Continuing,
Through heat and cold,
The long tumult of the years,
Laughing against the byways.
Run firmly.

And the sunlight will sing to you,
The mercy will flow through you.
Humility will release you
And the stars will call you home.

Not For This

It was not for this that I sang sweet songs of adoration to my God, that I praised him and proclaimed him from the time my fingers were long enough to stretch across the strings. It was not for this that I told my people, in words, in music, in every possible way, that the Lord’s ways were altogether righteous, and him only should they serve – not so that I should be the most flagrantly disobedient of them all.

It was not for this that I bore with the vagaries of Saul, his dark, dark moods and his murderous jealousy. It was not for this that I fled when he threw his spear, and that even when I caught him in the cave and he was in my power, I refrained from harming him because I would not lift my hand against the Lord’s anointed. And I knew, even in those desperate years when I hid in the wilderness that the Lord’s favour was with me, and his anointing still stood through the barren space of years. And I have come down to this. I, who would not lift my hand against an unfaithful king have lifted it against a most faithful servant and taken his life, though by proxy. (It is still my blood-guilt. I know that now.) And I could not wait out my lust one little moment (though I waited out all of Saul’s revilings), but had to have the woman now, though she was not mine to take.

It was not for this that I found the courage of a pure faith (though I was little more than a child) and went forth to do battle with the monster Goliath who had dared insult my God. For I had not slain the monster within me: the monster of self-righteousness, the monster of entitlement, the secret, bitter, depravity of my own heart. And now it is laid bare for the whole of Israel to see, and God has shone his righteous light on the deeds I did in darkness, and there is no shame like mine.

All my life I have been a warrior, and a warrior-king, but the moment I stopped battling the enemies without, I surrendered without a battle to the enemy within. I had forgotten that God desires truth in the inward parts. I had slipped into thinking that it was enough to proclaim him in the great assembly of the people, and to support and uphold his worship. And now I am exposed – a murderer, an adulterer, and yes, (and this is bitter to male pride) a rapist, who took a woman unwilling when I had so many that were willing. Not for this was I anointed king.

And now there is nothing left but to cry out to God and pray for him to change me. For I cannot make myself clean. Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. I have stood against monsters and mighty foes, but I never needed you then as much as I need you now. Do not cast me away from your presence, do not take your Holy Spirit from me. It was not for this that you made me, it was not for this that you exalted me, that I might shame your holy name. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, for I cannot live without you.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Invitation to sleep

Body, be at rest,
Day’s doings done!
The world will turn without you.
Lay you down.
And let the great eternal forces
Carry you to morning.

Busy mind, be still!
Your thinking can’t
Change the world on its own.
It’s time to stop,
To trust,
To let your smallness carry you
To dreams of wonder and another day.

Soul, let go!
The mountains and the valleys and the heights
Will stand without you;
Whirling stars will dance
To their own music,
They require you not.
Remember who you are,
Remember whose,
And let go and lie down.

For this you know,
You know this certainty:
You sleep and wake in safety.
Day and night
Are written in the fabric of the world,
And in their rhythm teach a greater thing.
For death will come
A falling into dark,
To fall through to a morning bright and fair,
To fall through to the Love that always holds,
And holds forever.

Rest, and be content.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

To the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

What do you think as you stand there,
Under the deep blue sky and the hammered heat,
Moving with machine precision
Giving honour to the dead?

What do you feel, standing there
Under the gaze of strangers
Whose motives you cannot guess?
Eyes straight! Stay focused!

What do you know, as you stand there
Of the pain of your traditions,
The doubts that pursue the dying,
Questioning your cause?
What have you suffered?
What made you?
Do you know the grace that holds you,
Promising a glory
That no war ever brought?

Where do you go when you stand there
Before the unnamed dead;
And, just beyond you,
The stretching fields of tombstones,
Where the dead
Have nothing left but names?
Do you wonder
What name, what lasting heritage,
Is yours?

When a man keeps company with death
What does he return to tell the living?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sheila's Cardamom Bread (for Communion)


Blessed be the hands that made the bread,
That gather, mix and knead. 
Blessed be the hands that bore the nails
To meet our deepest need.

Blessed be the one who adds the spice
And subtle sweetness gives.
Blessed be the one who took on death
So that his body lives.

Blessed be the faith that baked this bread
And gave it back to God.
Blessed be the faith that went through hell
To claim us by his blood.

Blessed be the hands that baked the loaf
Through which our souls are fed.
Blessed be the hands that took the cross
To be our living bread.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dream Train

Dream train

Oh the train is sweetly rolling and there's twilight in the air
And the new ploughed fields wear little shoots of green
And there's water by the wayside and the clouds are turning pink
And restfulness embraces everywhere.

And the nights are softly dreaming to the rhythm of the rails
To the soporific music of their song
And the passengers are bound into a night they cannot see
As darkness starts to gather all around.

There's a soft sort of contentment when there's nothing to be done
Save to rest upon the turning of the wheels
And remembering and forgetting seem an effort far too strong
For this dreaming place at rest between the worlds.




Thursday, May 25, 2017

Windy city

Windy City

And the lake it sings its own song mid the sparkle and the shade
And the rain and bitter wind notes come and go
And the music that they're making is a tune that I can hear.
Windy City.

There's a melody of seasons, there's a painted change of light
There's a rustling of squirrels in the trees
And clouds are wrapped like scarves around the shoulders of the towers.
Windy City.

And the waters are a mirror to the twists of history
And the lake has gathered in a million tears
And the groans of pains uncounted lend their bass notes to the breeze.
Windy City.

And there's striving and there's growing and there's struggle and there's loss
And the turning pages may be dark or bright
And there's mystery and longing and the strange smell of success
Windy City.

For they came, they came, the dreamers and the hopeful and the lost
Sheep and wolves like every place that man has trod,
And the fire is burning ever and the guns blaze in men's hearts.
Windy City.

But the waters still sing gently and the works of man still stand
And the promises are certain as the day
There's a welcome word of kindness and a wonder takes your breath
Windy City.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Autumn Twilight

The sun burns low upon the western sky
And winter draws its cloak around it, tight.
And, in this life of waiting and of love,
I sit and watch the dying of the light.

Time is the only rhythm that I know,
By heart and breath and clock to measure pace.
But always, just beyond the senses’ scan,
Eternity wears quite another face.

Those moments beyond time when stars stand still,
Or dance before a beauty we can’t see,
When love enables soul to touch with soul,
And we are stilled from our cacophony.

Therefore I walk this small and earthly span
In hope of glory far beyond my guess;
For every chill of cloud and fall of leaf
Recalls to me the great eternal Yes.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Man with a Burden

He had always believed that his shortness of stature was a horrible burden to bear. As a child he had been laughed at and picked on by boys who were bigger than him but no older; as a man he had been disregarded and overlooked until he found a way to make them take him seriously. In his world there were two things that made everyone sit up and take notice: money was one and the power of Rome was the other. And there was one way a rather clever nobody like him could use both of those to his advantage – become a tax collector for the Romans! Nobody would dare despise him then (or, at least, not to his face).

And it worked, well, mostly it worked. Nobody dared openly offend the man who set their taxes. And he gained wealth, much wealth. Of course by the standards of Jewish law it was dishonestly gained wealth, because Rome set the amount they wanted for the district and then he collected the actual taxes from people, setting them at levels that gave him a nice little excess he could keep for himself. Alright, to be completely honest (which he never was), it was quite a large excess, and he enjoyed all the privileges of wealth. The fact that people possibly liked him even less than in his bullied childhood was something he took care not to think about. Wealth and power certainly had their compensations. But somehow they hadn’t freed him from his burden, and he was no longer childish enough to blame his lack of height. It was like having an itch that he didn’t know how to scratch.

Then one day he heard a rumour that the Teacher, the strange new prophet called Jesus was coming to town. Normally such things were of little interest to him, but for some reason he felt he had to be there. But so, apparently, did other people; the roadside was already crowded and he couldn’t see over their heads. He knew, from bitter experience, that while no one would dare be openly aggressive towards him, there were one hundred and one ways they could passively express their disgust of him by just pretending they weren’t aware of his presence. There was no way they would let him through the front so that he could see anything.

But then he saw the solution – there was a large sycamore growing by the roadside. He was agile enough, he could easily climb it, make himself comfortable on one of the big branches, and peer out between the leaves. He would be above everyone else, and no one would even notice him. The thought pleased him and he climbed the tree.

And just in time, for Jesus was coming now. He was surprised at how excited he felt, but even more surprised when, a moment later, Jesus stopped, looked straight up into his hiding place, and called him by name. “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” The Teacher knew who he was and wanted to dine with him? Nobody had ever wanted Zacchaeus before.

He hurried out of the tree so fast that he almost fell. He realised that this was so important, so precious to him, that he didn’t want to give Jesus time to change his mind. Suddenly all his gold and silver didn’t seem so important. He did not yet know it, but his real burden, the burden of being despised and rejected, was about to be taken away forever. Still less did he know yet how Jesus would ultimately carry that burden for him. But he already felt like dancing.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Restoration

In the end is the beginning, in the loss we find the gain, from seeming defeat comes ultimate victory. True life is found on the other side of death, not by clinging relentlessly and hopelessly to this shadow of life we know now. Kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall, but life remains in the hidden places and is called forth to flourish once again. The history of the world is the story of restoration, in spite of every dark thing that evil works against it.

In the beginning there was a man and a woman, and there was also one who took the form of a serpent and beguiled them into sin and death and misery. But there was also God, and he had a better story to tell them and invite them into. It wasn’t the easy way, or the simplistic way, but it was the true way. It was the way of restoration.

And even through darkness and evil, some chose to follow that path. And there was a man called Abraham who left the glittering comforts of the world behind to walk with God beneath the stars. And to him there was given a glimpse of promises beyond his power to measure. But the road to restoration was not an obvious one for his descendants, it lay through exile and slavery, bondage and brokenness. But, in the fullness of time, through fear and wonder, they were restored to the land that had been promised, and became a nation.

And the centuries passed. And, in the pattern of history, there was gain and loss, exile and restoration. But God had a bigger plan, for he is not just their God, but the God of all that is. And so he came himself, the Creator entering creation; he came to his own and his own did not receive him. He did not come wearing any earthly splendour as a shoddy symbol of his majesty, he came as the least of these and was despised and rejected, for they still did not understand God’s way of restoration. And he died, shamefully and horribly, while the crowds jeered and mocked, and it seemed like the last frail thread of hope had snapped.

But this was all part of the plan of restoration, and the very thing that looked so like defeat was a mighty victory over sin and death and all the forces of destruction. The miracle had happened and the tide had turned.

But the work of restoration is not yet complete. The earth still groans and injustice and oppression stalk the world. And so we wait for the final act, the fulfilment of all that is.  We wait for a new heaven and new earth. We wait for a city of glory that will descend like a bride. We wait for every tear to be wiped away, and the splendour of the nations to come in. We wait for that joy which can never be taken away – never ever again. We wait for God.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Time of Breaking

It is the time for breaking
Old platitudes depart;
We people-in-the-making
Must un-defend the heart.

It is the time of mourning
For what may never be;
Small truths no longer scorning
We face our finity.

It is the time for speaking
The words we could not say;
With no more image-tweaking
We face the light of day.

It is the time for grieving
The good we failed to do;
Too weak was our believing,
Too swift the moments flew.

It is the time for lighting
The lamps we need by night;
To read the wall’s strange writing
Demands a truer light.

It is the time of breaking
Our false strongholds of fear;
Hypocrisy forsaking,
For reckoning draws near.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Shadow of a Great brightness

There – not there!
Skittering at the edge of sight,
The shadow of a great brightness,
Wrenching my tear-filled eyes.

Have I seen truly?
Have I seen at all?
Ever, at all?
Moments of such illumination
My earth-sense doubts them real.

The shadow of a great brightness:
And, in our moon-struck folly,
We dare not whisper what we see,
Fearing the rolling of each other’s eyes,
Fearing the desecration of self-doubt,
Fearing, in fact, our own humanity,
In its amphibious state between the worlds.

There is more than meets the eye,
Yet we want our eyes to meet
In the shared language of our daily life
(Imagining that this is understood);
And the shadow of a great brightness
Remains our silent mystery.

Let us rather acknowledge that the limitation
Is rather in ourselves, who can’t else know
The things that great illuminations show –
Acknowledging we have so far to grow.

And the shadow of a great brightness
Is more real than sun and moon.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Last Passover

We were so blind that night,
Our eyes tight closed against truths too big to bear.
We saw, and we did not see,
We knew and remained ignorant
We were like men who stared at the letters
But could not read the words.

Now, with our world reborn,
Now that we finally truly begin to understand
(A beginning that will continue into all eternity,
For who can compass the infinite?),
Now, when the pattern is complete and its glory is revealed,
Now we know it could be no other way.
It had to be the Passover.

It had to be the Passover.
He was the new Moses, the better-than-Moses,
Who would lead his people to freedom through darkness and terror,
Who would take us out of slavery into the fullness of the promises,
Who would show us the way to our true home.
And He was the paschal lamb
The one whose blood was spilled so that,
Though we should feel the bitter cold that flows from the wings of the Angel of Death,
Yet it would not touch us
And we need no longer be afraid.
And He was the unleavened bread in whom no hint of corruption lived,
And the bitter herbs became his crown of thorns.

It had to be the Passover.
Yet we were so blind.
We did not see how his every word, every gesture,
Was loaded with layers of meaning.
We did not see the sorrow and agony that lay beneath his gravity.
Nothing made sense to us then.

He took the bread and broke it.
“This is my body,” He said.
These were words that could tear the universe apart
And we simply took and ate.
We did not know that his body would be broken
So that we could be made one;
One with each other,
One with God Himself,
One with his purpose and his power.
(But, Oh, the horror of that breaking!)

And then He took the cup,
That solemn cup
Of ordinary wine,
“This is my blood of the New Covenant,
Poured out for many
For forgiveness of sins.”
We had no idea.
We were too afraid to ask.
But now we rejoice as the forgiven.

Every year we had spoken the words
Eaten the food
Remembered and remembered,
Drunk the wine
Remembered,
And never seen
It all was pointing forwards and not back:
Not to Moses but to Christ.

He made the blind to see.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Equipoise (Easter Saturday)

There is deep silence at the heart of things:
The still point at the swinging of the tide,
Pause between heartbeats, space between our breaths,
The first star that comes blinking to our view,
The hanging moment of the pendulum
Before it courses back, the equipoise,
The turning point when everything hangs still.

And thus with time: this day, the silent day,
The day between the days, when death and life
Hung equipoised in some eternal place,
The victory surely known, but not to us.
Your people waited, hushed, as audience,
Who did not know there was another act
Yet still gazed at the curtain in despair –
For surely, surely, this was not the end?

Therefore we wait in every turning point,
Between the breathing out and breathing in,
Between the understanding and the thought,
Between the darkness and the coming light,
The space that waits between our tears and prayers,
Knowing that you, yourself have been here too,
And sanctified our turmoil with your peace


Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Thoughts 2017

 This time last year I walked an English Spring
And all the promised wonders that ensue.fresh,
Where all was daffodil-shiny new,
And drank the metaphor of life reborn

This time, this year, my world to Autumn slopes
 The dying season hovers, close at hand,
Birds fly away and flowers turn to dust
The season’s adumbration cloaks the land.

So here I stand, as the year’s circle turns
And brings me back to Calvary once more
Where dark was darkest and death cruelled the earth
With hopelessness more bitter than before.

And here I visit but I shall not stay
I know the story and its gloried end;
I know my Winter has a future Spring
I know that He who died now calls me “friend”.

I know that He is life and shall not die
Again. I know His victory is complete,
His suffering is the anteroom to joy,
And it was death who suffered full defeat.

I know that seasons turn and roll and flow,
But He is faithful in His constancy.
He died, He rose, He lives forever more,
And on that day His love was sealed to me.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

I Thirst

I – skitter-minded, child of little thirsts,
Longing life’s mud puddles,
Quickly quenched,
Always, always,
Too easily satisfied,
Only acknowledging
Teaspoon deserts,
Which a little glitter hides.

You draw me to the silent places,
And open my aridity
Till my whole self yearns your streams,
Your living water.
Salt of the earth, you tease my tongue,
The puddles all evaporate
And this thirst feels like death,
My heart spun drier than the dust between the stars.

Except a grain of wheat …
Watered, I sprout.

But you – what did you thirst,
Hell raw on every nerve,
The torment of the utterly alone,
Strung from the precipice,
Falling into flame?
Angels held back, aghast,
At the unravelling of Life,
The coming down
To this.

Was it my thirst you bore,
Or something more:
Love,
Unsatiated,
Reaching out through everything
For me?