Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon…
(Christina Rossetti, “Christmas Eve”)
Minutes before the shops shut, I walked
supermarket aisles with other forgetful ones,
gleaning the last sheaves of festive cheer
while the muzak paused to say it was time.
And two millennia ago, a carpenter and his pregnant bride
found themselves strapped for place and time,
entering mess and forgetfulness,
and God came into the dark.
And driving home I passed the lights of the street,
dazzling with their explosive brightness.
It all leads here: tomorrow shops will shut, corks will pop,
paper will rustle in symphonic joy.
And in a manger God chose the dark,
the small forgotten things, and still,
still He comes into the dark.
Our lights are too bright to see Him.
…he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.
(Psalm 143:3 KJV)
my brother and I sleeping on
fold-out beds in our grandparents’ living room,
I found myself awake
well past the usual hour, and
my thoughts like the room plunged
in obsessive black, save
for a red electric glow from some
unidentified source, I knew no
comfort to tether me
to the physical facts of things – that here
I was, and there my brother was, and
upstairs my grandparents slept and
somewhere out there was the lapping of the sea,
the daggers my nighttime mind turned inwards
and the sheer obsidian
absence of light,
and though morning and my brother’s voice
restored me to earth, the night
with its limitless black save
that relentless red glow
have clung to me since
as the knowledge of Hell.
I must have a light
that can dispel such a dark.
But for now, in what passes as daylight,
remember those who dwell in night,
remember the night that lies before
those who fail to remember the light.
Remember the absence
of memory or light,
remember the path out of darkness
In a creaking house for family feasting, I sat
as summer light streamed through leadlight doors and
cracks in curtains,
fairy lights twinkling on pine tree while
I rocked my youngest, disrupted by
the change of place, his older
brother’s noise and the stubborn light,
and tried to make a darkness conducive
to an eight-month child’s much-needed sleep,
and fancied the Father
keeping vigil by my fretful side
neither slumbering nor sleeping
until true day arrives.
…heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign…
(Christina Rossetti, “In the Bleak Midwinter”)
While fires burned, I retreated
to safer, internal climes, denying heat.
Discomfort seemed unreasonable,
inconvenient that we should be so troubled.
Yet world rarely does as it’s told,
pointing a finger at us as we point back at it.
If world won’t be bullied, how much less so God
who bursts mightier than fire
and shakes out our smug contentment
with the mountains and the stars.
If earth will melt, how much more our pride
when kingdom comes in blaze,
This we long for:
homes of flourishing,
hearts of abundance,
generous speech and thoughts and hands,
well-watered gardens and evening cool,
children like olive plants,
fruit in season and out,
and ever fruitful words and deeds,
no harvest passing empty,
no word bringing blight,
no failing crop or government,
no cry of distress in our streets,
and the will to will,
the longing to long,
the hope to hope,
the day to come.
How long shall I long in vain?
(Christina Rossetti, “Of Him That Was Ready to Perish”)
And so we are not ready,
too full of dross and dust,
too much in need of refining fire
to enter a purity our kind spoilt long ago.
Nor is it ready for us,
nor is the day ripe,
for patient salvation beckons
while a kingdom of misfits slowly heeds the call.
And, in our waiting, fire cleanses:
in expectation, yes, but also in doubt,
in anguish and breathlessness and all the daily ache
that drives our longing ever more to be clean.
In all our midnight prayers and wrestling,
all our broken hips and pride,
all our cries – How long, how long? –
in all this our souls will prepare.
The first thing I must own
is that there is no place
in a new heaven or a new earth
for the ancient dirt
that clogs my soul,
no place for the fetid fury
that clings to my speech,
nor for the old-as-Cain
hatred of brother
that kills me the moment
that it kills you.
A nomad for much of my days, I confess
the urge is strong now to stay put, to secure,
to gather and store,
to extend the barns for the coming drought.
Where luxurious waste gathers in wardrobes and pantries, I long
to play the rich fool and leave it be.
Yet still the cloud gets up each day
and leads me to I-don’t-know-where,
and we who have been baptised in Red Sea and cloud
must pack up our chattels and keep our hands empty
with everything but covenant open to loss
and the homes we’ve not built set before us.
I’m only going over Jordan,
I’m only going over home.
(“Poor Wayfaring Stranger”, trad.)
Truth be told, I hardly think of it,
the end of my roaming, except perhaps as sleep,
or when, longing for an end to all ending things,
I dream of new creations. Yet
the sum of my longing is not halfway close,
bound as I am by my weak desires,
and no more can I comprehend
what waits than a foetus knows what makes
such thrumming noise beyond the womb.
I only dip my feet in Jordan;
I must submerge myself and drift
away from all I think I know
to what I trust knows me.