Learning the names of days, my son
asks each morning for the signs that distinguish
one from the next: is this
the day the rubbish truck comes?
Does Dad go to work?
Is it music class today?
And this day, one without
any special markers, leaves me
bereft of news to give him, only
the name - Wednesday - and the thought
that days like this are needed, when
we simply live, and get on with life,
while trees do their daily work
and cells respirate, we too
find grace in the normal,
and the chance to try
again what we left
undone as yesterday's sun went down.
All this I cannot say, only
that these ordinary days
bring their own small gifts.
On this day
I still wrestled my children
into their clothes,
still raced out the door
too late for comfort,
still pricked my finger with a rose thorn,
still feared that all my labour's in vain,
and found the evening slump
a little close to despair
everything changed, while nothing changed
and mustard seeds of life were at work
whether we noticed
My twins' favourite game
is to grab a Bible each and run
delighted round the room shouting,
"Bible! Bible!" as though
treasure has been found.
Their Bibles are ragged and worn from rough handling;
binding broken, the Word opens up,
unbound, into the mess of life.
Man is what he is and he is everything that he is in the decision of faithKarl Barth
And faith, or belief, is more
direction than assent
to a thought or a fact; it is
the thing from which others turn,
and from which you may have turned,
will have turned,
for hole-hearted love is never whole-hearted,
you correct, in daily
micromovements, to turn
back, again, again, and dwell -
for faith also is dwelling,
an end-of-day settling,
body and soul, weary and fighting,
ending your fighting,
and drooping, falling
into infinite arms.
Once I believed in You,
though belief is often evasive, often abstract,
like air, which itself defies grasp
yet needy lungs clutch at it with the certainty
that this, this alone they must have.
And I believe like
the fig tree believes in the soil,
sometimes wilted, sometimes refusing fruit,
always held, always known to the roots.
And at the vesper light, I
believe, not with
the confident certainty of the apologist in debate,
the smug politician turning
divine name to unholy cause,
the bed beneath me believes in the ground,
believes in the frame that holds it.
What happens, he wonders,
shattered by the mess, by the day,
by the constancy of demands,
by the ever-present lesson of patience,
by the daily failure to learn this patience -
What happens, he asks, when my love is broken?
Nothing happens. The day goes on,
all is reset as night arrives;
all but the weight that pulls at his shoulders,
that sags like his soul has a leak in its middle.
night is as long and restless as the one before,
and morning will come with its worries anew.
But this still happens. The glory happens,
though it does not shout or cry.
Day on day, God dwells in this mystery:
that love can wake up
what love has done today.
“… how we perform these often dispiriting duties, from the changing of a baby’s diaper to the bathing of an aged parent, reveals what kind of God we worship.”Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me
Weary, yet itching for greater things,
Longing to change the world while
my own heart lies stony and stagnant,
from the trifles of significance and
grand Calls to the small,
the smallest of things, and seek
as I sweep scattered breakfast,
wipe porridge from grabby fingers,
my fingers from my own feeble Self
away the dregs of my torpid ego
and make a hole fit
for footwashing Christ
to call home.
Pregnant with its own hopeful future,
Bursting with change and the newness of experience…
The year stands,
A heaving monument to grace.“The Swelling Year”, 2019
I would not have written those words this year. I almost cannot imagine the world in which I did write them. Though I first wrote them in 2012, they seemed an apt way to describe the year that lay ahead – 2020 – when I released The Swelling Year this time last year. But have the words proven false, now that we know how 2020 has turned out? I don’t believe so. Though I would use different language to describe the longing for, and prospect of, grace to come in the COVID world, God’s goodness and providence are no less real now than they were 12 months ago. Each year stands as a living, breathing monument to grace. We may not yet know the ways that grace will have proven to have been at work in 2020, but we have glimpses. And so I will rejoice, sometimes feebly, sometimes confidently, in the truth of those glimpses.
The Swelling Year (1st Anniversary Edition) is available from Lulu.com now.
As the sun rises, again,
a little sheepish, over
this hesitant day,
prepare the way
for my often straying feet.
May my yesterdays not repeat
except in the way Your grace has of giving
every new day for new ways of living.
Keep me. Make me new:
I have not loved
as I ought to have loved;
I have not taken the good as gift;
I have not said Yes to all from Your hand.
Whatever day holds - to sit, walk or stand -
may it be You
in every breath - You.
World without end,
and if world should end.
Father, Son, Spirit: Amen.