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?


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Let the Rain fall

Let the rain fall, bleak and hard
On the shadowed desolation
The wound at the heart of the world.

Let the torrents try
To cleanse the stain, the spot incarnadine,
Bleeding death, and fear and rottenness.

Let us gather all our great technologies –
Surely something will succeed?
Surely we can make our peace?

But failure sticks, chokingly, in our mouths
Till our mumblings make no sense
In the misery of rain.

There was only one way, only, ever one,
He took it, lashed with thorns, vicious with nails,
Into the desolation, the forsaken place…

Let the rain fall, gentle with blessing,
Let the skies sing triumph!
Let the angels' alleluias mend our faith again!

Whole in His brokenness, blood washed out by blood,
We begin again, acknowledging His victory:
The price we could not pay.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

And the Passover moon looks down

And the Passover moon shines down
And the man kneels in the garden
And the bent, gnarled trees kneel too,
While creation holds its breath.

Men sleep, this agony too much for them.
(In dreams we can forget).
But the trees know,
And the Spring breeze pauses its dance,
And the distant sheep are still.
Only the stars, steadfast in their constancy,
Have no fear that he’ll say “No!”
And unravel all redemption.

Those same angels
Who once ministered
When he endured the wilderness
Hold back now,
Covering their faces
Before such holiness.

“Nevertheless ..”
His will, already crucifed,
Accepts the cup,
Shrinking from its vileness.
And the trees lift up their branches,
Looking strangely like a cross.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Tibouchinas in Holy Week



Tibouchinas in the rain
Purple flowers, sky of grey
Whisper of the king who came
Draped in our dark robe of pain.

Flowering when the autumn chill
Turns some other leaves to brown;
Here a promise to fulfil
When our world is turned around.

Promise, not of golden days,
Or of blossoms yet-to-be,
But the mercy in his gaze,
Love in our infirmity.

Promise to walk by our side
Through whatever grief we face.
Nailed to us, he will abide,
Lifting, leading into grace.

Promise of the mourning king,
Man of sorrows, Lord and God,
Promise that through everything
He is sealed to us by blood.

Tibouchinas in the rain,
Purple flowers for my king,
As my heart walks through again
The path of his suffering.



Sunday, April 09, 2017

Palm Sunday

How do you ride in peace
Through the clamour of Hosanna?
The shouting of false dreams,
The loud hunger for a Kingdom
Which is not the one you bring?

You wear your kingship
Like a crown of thorns
While they throw their garments at your feet
Covering the stones,
Just for a moment,
And rejecting the chief cornerstone:
Yourself.

How do you bear it,
Knowing their stubborn pain
And the flippant excuses
Of hearts so disengaged?
Like children who turn
From one toy to another
Enjoying none,
Their anger waits the day.

Peace is the pattern of your gift
So you bring it bravely
To the place of violation
Where the Prince of Peace
Is not their heart’s desire:
When it comes to a choice
They would rather have Barabbas.

How do you ride in peace
Through the clamour of Hosanna?
Your face set to Jerusalem,
Your hands prepared for nails
Wearing your sorrow
Like the garments of a king?


Friday, April 07, 2017

Silence

Our words, so much less than
The inarticulate dream;
Our stumbling, bumbling counterfeits
Tumbling  from our lips
Grumbling with inadequacy
For what remains unsaid
Even when we say it.

We take Your words
And cut them up
Hoping to find actuality
In the inter-consonantal spaces,
And, when we find nothing
Declare that nothing’s there.

We are the impoverished
Who rise in the morning
And hear no angels’ song.
We are the foolish
Thinking words are less
Than our spirals of activity.
We are the ignorant
Who do not know
The power of Your words.
We are the arrogant
Making ourselves the measure
And the universe falls short.

How can You speak
Into the restless hubbub
Of our whirling self-justification?

Let us be willing
To wait in the silence,
Testing our words against truth
Falling silent
Waiting until
Your words remake the world

Monday, April 03, 2017

The Spoilsport

It was the best of times. I had never had it so good. Our property had recovered from my father’s foolish gift to my brother, and everything was thriving. We had more sheep, more cattle, more acres of land than ever before (because a prudent man re-invests by buying more good farmland with his profits, and the first thing I did when we could afford it was buy back the fields my father had sold to raise the money for my brother’s share of the inheritance – how I resented that!), and we were looking forward to record-breaking crops. True, we had heard rumours of a famine in faraway lands, but what was that to us? We can’t be responsible for other people’s misfortunes, if they squander their surplus in good years and keep nothing for the lean ones, well, they are to blame for their own troubles. A man must make his own wealth by his own hard work, or so I have always believed. And I certainly worked hard. From morning to night I was bustling about, organising this and fixing that, making sure none of our hired hands shirked in their labours. And in the busy periods I have never been above rolling up my sleeves and doing the work myself. Hard work is how a man earns respect in this world, and if you aren’t prepared to work you deserve to go without.

My father left more and more of the work to me, and that suited me fine. He would spend so much time gazing down the road as if he were expecting my brother to suddenly materialise on the road in front of him. Why, I don’t know, but old men have their fancies, and he must surely realise that I was worth a dozen of that idle scapegrace. A prosperous old age, and no lack of anything he might reasonably desire, that was my gift to him. I was a son any man could be proud of.

Then, one day, when the sun burned like a white flame, and the dust on the road was chokingly thick, my brother re-appeared. I was out in the fields, of course, and was only told later what had happened. My father saw him while he was still a long way off, and throwing aside every last vestige of the dignity belonging to our family, went running down the road to meet him. Only later did I learn that my brother had come back as a beggar and suppliant, as he should, in his disgrace, but my father would have none of it. Instead of sending him to work in the fields and sleep in the stables, he called for his robe and ring, and for the fatted calf to be killed for a feast of rejoicing.

It is beyond my understanding. Can’t he see that things were better without my brother? Can’t he see that my brother shouldn’t be rewarded for his behaviour? What will that teach him? The lazy boy has probably spent all his money on loose women and loaded dice. He is a disgrace! Somebody said, “look how much he loves him!” I don’t understand. He has done nothing to earn my father’s love! One bitter question rises in my throat like bile: whare is the fatted calf for me?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Norfolk Island -- the Convicts

The lash of time, the grinding seas
Have beaten on this lonely rock
Where the wild seabirds wheel and turn,
Alone amidst their seeming flock.

Here history has shed her tears
On bitter, dark brutality:
The monstrous sadism of man
Destroying human dignity.

Here many, many men were crushed
For the dull crimes of humankind;
And Hope was buried in the dust
And Pity was made deaf and blind.

And Justice turned away her head
And cunning wrought new paths to pain,
Men’s souls were to a treadmill fixed
To limp through hell again, again.

And down the way, in finer homes,
Sat genteel ladies taking tea
Their eyes averted from the things
It was not suitable to see.

And now the stones are crumbled down
And the sweet grass grows green and free
But still a sorrow soaks this place
Where men once moved in misery.

May we in prayer be thoughtful here
Lest careless hearts be turned to stone
And history on her treadmill still
Brings us to do as they had done.