20 Contemplations #19: Sleep, Wake

Anselm Kiefer, “Falling Stars”

I slept, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My beloved is knocking…
(Song of Solomon 5:2a)

The world sleeps, but still some wise men gaze out
unto the beckoning sky, and some
still wake to hear the door pounding, night humm-
ing in active grace of years. No doubt,
the gentleness of the stars will not shout,
yet the song of the angels ever thrums,
always beauty, until mortals must come
to the end of ourselves, our hearts, our mouths…
Lie awake, lie empty. You long because
that which you long for cannot be grasped:
not now, not while this perishable stuff
can only defer your hopes, caught in chaff.
Lie awake, lie longing. Dwell in the pause
between the now and not yet. Never lapse.

Transfiguration Sunday


These are the words of the One who burns
with all the fire of the morning star,
who shines much whiter than the day
in tabernacle flame.

These are the words of the risen Son
who was, who is, will ever be,
the One who sees, who knows, who calls,
the first, the last, the king.

These are the words of the One who shone
bright, radiant, on the mountain top,
the one who climbed another hill,
and was crowned upon a tree.

These are the words to the bride who yearns,
who strays, who cries, who prays, who strives.
Hear the words that search through hearts:
hear, stand, and overcome.

Epiphany: To an unknown painter

Unknown 16th century German painter, Wikimedia Commons
Unknown 16th century German painter, Wikimedia Commons

Too regal:
There were no drapes to hail Him king,
no cherubim in the background, aloft,
casually decking the scene, mid-song.

Yet this is right: if there were crowns,
they would be laid at His feet; and knees,
if wise, would know to bend.

We foresee the pious, in the corners, turned
toward their future king; and a long journey figured
in streets and hills, and horses mounting them.

The light’s far off, yet faces seem illumined.
Only the darker ones lack light: an error, this.
Epiphany brightens most the faces least expected here.

Not contained: the cost, the snorts of Herod,
the proud reflex to kill. All this smarts, demands
pensive faces show contrition to be brought here.

Is there room for us? We have no robes, King.
And yet, if cattle may rest above the frankincense,

we may also bow and drink Your light.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Xavier Romero Frias, Wikimedia Commons

For most people, Christmas is now over. The supermarkets are already stocking hot cross buns. But in the traditional church calendar, today is the last day of the season of Christmas – a season lasting twelve days, as we remember in the old song. Why remember Christmas for twelve days instead of one? If nothing else, it gives us a chance to think about what it really means, once the distractions have died down, and to look more closely at what comes next in the story.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Tradition says to put away the tree,
Though yours perhaps has already come down,
The children sullen, home a new-year frown,
And resolutions stowed in the pantry.

“Back to work,” you say. And in the streets
The same straight-fixéd gazes all around,
Ear-buds containing every inward sound.
My-true-love-sent-to-me, pit-pat your feet.

Perhaps you’ve still some toys to play with, or
There’s thank-you letters now for kids to start.
Yet on the twelfth day, Jesus still grew strong
And Mary treasured all things in her heart;
And stars still blazed for those who journeyed on,
Not numbed like us who know the yearly score.

Childhood (After Peter Steele’s “Star Man”)

For those who follow the church calendar, we are now in the season of Epiphany, the brief time between Christmas and Lent. Peter Steele’s cycle of poems “Rounding a Year”, deals nicely with this season, especially the strange in-between period where Jesus has been born but is not yet approaching the Cross. I’ve used today’s poem, a response to part of Steele’s work, to reflect on this stage of Jesus’ life.

Childhood (After "Star Man")

Strange as it must have been to grow as a child
   in the world which was his child, he grew,
we're told, and "became strong", "filled with wisdom":
   street-wise, perhaps, the way a kid has to be,
with all of these Romans around, yet wise also
   about the lines and shades of truth,
the textures of the soul, the contours of the earth,
   wise to know a true word when spoken,
being himself the Word. The Magi knew
   true wisdom when they saw it, but Herod
      would stumble on wisdom like a rock.
Yes, his father taught him which nail to use,
   how to use this chisel to shape this space,
how to manipulate the sternness of stone -
   yet those lessons were scarcely needed,
symbols, perhaps, of how low he had come,
   that he should take advice from a man
whom he himself had formed and shaped like clay.
   If he grew in wisdom and knowledge, perhaps
it was more like a waking than a learning - that
   moment of remembrance after a dream,
      the knowing assertion of light into a tomb.

Star Man - Peter Steele

What did they tell him about the early days?
   The infants taken out, the scramble
across a border, another sojourn in Egypt,
   the being strangers in a strange land,
anxiety as something gnawed like bread -
   was that the story? And what became
of all the star-talk they'd heard from camel drivers
  and their curious masters, who fished in bags
for the dulled flaming of gold, for smoky gum,
  for myrrh to mask mortality, while
     the child dozed as he needed?

Grown, a day's work done, the tools consigned
  to peace and shavings, he'd stroll and gaze
at the many nail-heads fixing a darkened fabric,
  the well-made world above him. And knew
as little as that vast array of siblings,
  hacks and drudges, who comb us all
towards coherence. Thumbs in his belt, he watched,
  but not to see the spill of fires
from whose old dust we're beckoned out to be,
  much less to think, as some would say,
     that in him all was made.

(From Peter Steele, The Gossip and the Wine, 2010, John Leonard Press)

The Veil (Last Sunday After Epiphany)

The veil is lifted, but do we see
His face as it truly is?
Like Peter we struggle to tie Him to ground
But He is not contained.

He sits enthroned before cherubim
But see Him take His throne
Upon a Roman cross, among
Rebels and dirty thieves.

The veil is lifted, but do we see
His face as it truly is?
Do we see His glory fulfilled
In a death that makes us flee?

Look into His goodness now:
The veil’s gone; you can see.
Look at His face and see His scars.
Now follow Him to the tree.

In Our Time (Fourth Sunday After Epiphany)

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Collect of the Day)

Nations fall about us;
Empires fail and kings deceive.
The great stand up against us and
We are but children with small lips.

In our time: speak to us.
In our time: grant us peace.

Our home towns mouth their gossip;
Our voices sound like toneless gongs.
Our smallness stands between us and
The greatness of Your task.

In our time: grant us peace.
In our time: be our strength.

Our enemies, they rage about us,
Sure of what we should have done.
Lepers die and widows starve;
The world declares our failure.

In our time: be our strength.
In our time: reveal Your grace.

We run to You for refuge;
We hide within Your rock.
Send us out again in strength;
We quake before the task.

In our time: let love not cease.
In our time: remove our shame.
Speak through us and grant us peace.
In your time, Lord: grant Your peace.

Joy and Strength (Third Sunday After Epiphany)

Do not weep:
The Word shines light on your darkest depths
And brings to light how far the gap,
How vast the space between your deeds
And what you should have done.
But do not weep: today the joy
Of the Lord shall be your strength.

Do not fret:
Sit silently before the Word
And let it turn your hearts of clay
Into new hearts of living flesh,
Hearts that pound as one and live
To glorify your God, and know
His joy shall be your strength.

Do not fight:
Don’t fight against the Word you hear
Or look elsewhere for fulfilment.
Today before your very eyes,
The scripture’s truths have come to pass:
Sight for the blind, freedom for slaves,
Joy to be out strength.
The Word may cut you to the quick;
Your prison cell may still seem real;
Christ’s body may fight with itself
And you may languish in confused
Stasis where you stand. Rejoice:
His joy must be your strength.

Radiance: A Virelai (Second Sunday After Epiphany)

For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

(Psalm 36:9)

His shining face
Bright with redeeming grace
And love radiates
Into our darkest wastelands.

You will not see a trace
Or space
Of what our dirtied hands
Destroyed. He has replaced
With grace
All our dreams and hopes. He stands
And shines His face
His bright-as-new-dawn face
And day springs at His commands…

His shining face
Bright with redeeming grace
And love radiates
Into our darkest wastelands.

My Son (First Sunday After Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord)

The voice of the Lord shakes the trees,
The voice of the Lord splits the flames,
The voice of the Lord shakes the thunder’s reply,
The voice of the Lord calls Your name…

The voice of the Lord rides the waters,
The voice of the Lord rides the waves,
The voice of the Lord plumbs Your baptism’s depths,
The voice of the Lord calls Your name…

The spirit, a dove, now descending,
The spirit of God, burning flame,
The spirit of God, roaring fiery bright,
Now gentle, now calling Your name.

The voice says, “You are my beloved.”
The voice says, “You are my own son.”
The voice says, “With you, my child, I’m well pleased.”
The voice of the Son calls my name.