“Do not despise the day of small things”

On days of frustration, beware
the futile fury that burns
when queues are as long as red tape
and parking spaces are few.

On days when nothing’s achieved, beware
the muted rage that despises the stranger
for taking your place in a lane or a line,
that resents the day for passing.

On these dog days of shopping malls,
keep your eye upon the prize.
A broken heart He won’t despise,
and the day has grace for us all.

Sow a seed and water soil;
give thanks for sun and everyone:
the ones that drive you out of self,
that thwart your ticked To-Dos.

Brave the crowd at Centrelink;
Futility destroys the proud.
Remember now, you are not king.
Crown mercy in this day.

Unownable Things

It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to write gratitude lists on my birthday, yet each year it feels like I am discovering gratitude anew. While I always remember doing it the previous year, it never comes naturally to me. Instead, I find myself thinking that another strategy might be better this year – something productive like counting how many birthday wishes I get on Facebook each hour. Yet each year my need for gratitude keeps emerging; each year I have to remind myself of how much I have to be thankful for.

But this year I have Jonas Petersen (aka Hymns From Nineveh) to thank for reminding me that the best kind of gratitude doesn’t focus on what we have, because possessions are temporary and so often only make us want to acquire more. Instead, I want to do what Jonas does in this glorious, Ecclesiastes-like song of his: to “make a list of unownable things that make me happy”. Which is what, on this wet wintry Melbourne birthday morning, I will now do.

Unownable Things

Not possessions;
I am sooner
possessed than possessing.

Not ownership, for
I am owned by what
I long for.

Instead
the rain, which is ours,
falls now on this just and unjust day.

The trees
line our street with their dancing,
speckle pavement with green dust.

The warmth
of all bodies, the truth
that the sun animates the clouds,

the wandering
conviction that today we live
for each other:

all common graces
on this day of salvation.
All gift that cannot be owned.

Nocturne

Dance the night amidst the mist and

hover cloud above the earth;

sing the streets in silent vigil,

sleep the world aright.

 

Water soil, the dew of nighttime,

watch the sleeping grasses grow;

let the nocturne song surround you

as you come and go.

 

Rain falls on the just and unjust;

nighttime falls on both.

Woken by the same song’s sunshine,

lift us both to grace.

Catechism 27

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This next question from the New City Catechism is a hard pill to swallow. It touches on what for me has long been one of the toughest questions of faith: the doctrine of election. The Bible is full both of invitations for all to come and also clear teaching that not all will come, and indeed that God has chosen for some not to come to Him. It can turn our heads and hearts inside out as we wrestle with it, yet in this poem I have tried to focus myself – and, I pray, you as you read it – on the goodness of God which shines through all these struggles through the gifts of common grace.

Catechism 27

Are all people, just as they were lost through Adam, saved through Christ?

No, only those who are elected by God and united to Christ by faith. Nevertheless God in his mercy demonstrates common grace even to those who are not elect, by restraining the effects of sin and enabling works of culture for human well-being. (New City Catechism)

 

It hurts
            to hear
that some are lost.

It stings
            to know
that grace has cost.

It cuts
            into
our minds to know

that not all shall be saved.

And yet
            this grace
shines through it all:

that God,
            the sovereign,
makes and rules

the work
            of hands
in spite of all

the dirt, the sin we wrought.

To trust
            His grace:
in this is peace.

To seek
            His face
and righteousness

is all
            that we
with broken minds

can hope or need to do.

Catechism 12

keep-calm-and-love-your-neighbour-10

What does God require in the ninth and tenth commandments?

Ninth, that we do not lie or deceive, but speak the truth in love. Tenth, that we are content, not envying anyone or resenting what God has given them or us.

(New City Catechism)

 

The one beside you in the field,
      who labours with hands just like yours,
with soul and breath, desires like yours,
     the one who eats like you –

the one who, born beneath the same
     sun and stars – he too requires
the truth which holds you in its stead
     and says what is and how.

The one who has a wife like you,
     husband, children, dreams like you,
the one who sweats and sleeps like you
     and eats bread like you eat –

the one who opens hopeful palms,
     expectant of his daily bread –
must love and must be loved like you;
     his heart beats much like yours.

These yearly, daily, hourly gifts
     of rain on just, unjust alike
cut through your skin-deep, fence-post heart
     to veins that bleed like yours.

An Absolutely Ordinary Poet

Image from http://www.clivejames.com
Image from http://www.clivejames.com

February now over, it is time to offer one final celebration of Les Murray’s poetry, before moving onto our next – and final – poet in the 12 Poets Project. Here is a short reflection on some of the qualities I value most in Murray’s work. I hope it is a fitting conclusion to our month spent in his work.

Les Murray – An Absolutely Ordinary Poet

And as March gets under way, it will soon be time for us to open up the work of a quite unexpected poet: former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, the Welsh-born theologian and writer Rowan Williams. I first encountered Williams’ affinity with poetry through his translations of his eighteenth-century countrywoman Ann Griffiths’ work, only to find that he had written much of his own. I am looking forward to sharing it, and my responses to it, with you this month.

Morning Song (After Peter Steele’s “An Ordinary Evening In Kew”)

Time for my last poem for Peter Steele, this one based on his simple and delicate “An Ordinary Evening in Kew”. Less theological than the other poems I have chosen, this one is a wonderful tribute to the simple beauties of God’s gift of life.

Morning Song (After "An Ordinary Evening in Kew")

The Kensington street heats up for public holiday and I
Race the heat down hills, past flats and parklands, through
The lessening leaves that lined last week’s pavement.
Autumn yawns as summer dawns again, and slow the street
Awakes to greet the gift of sunrise without work.
In my ears the swoop of violins, and heartbeat
Growing with each downwards leap. My shins, uncertain,
Hold together for the plummet, though this is rest
Nonetheless: bodies, finite, all the same can sing
And defy the grave, though ever moving to it.
Birds’ music, poetry in movement: common grace
A sign that more than this may soon be allowed.
Welcome, street, and gambol now beside me,
Gravity negating, the dance a dreaming joy.


An Ordinary Evening in Kew - Peter Steele

On the one hand, Dante, and in the other pocket
The man who took his mind and left New Haven
For parts unknown. What were they up to,
The stoutly suited broker of our fortunes,
The burning Florentine? Watching the rain
Descend as if it chose to, giving vent
To laws at once of gravity and mercy,
I'm brought to book by earth's imagination,
The bearing of the trees, exfoliation
Of these most rambling streets, the rise of lights
Captive upon their poles and in my eyes.
Come in, you two: see if you'll make a lodging
An hour at least with the rest who wait inside,
Heads full of dreaming, bodies compelled by time.

(From Peter Steele, White Knight With Beebox: New and Selected Poems, 
John Leonard Press, 2008)