Damascus 2: Pentecost

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)
Caravaggio, “Conversion on the way to Damascus”, c1601

I missed the flames that day,
was at my books, learning the whys and wherefores of Law,
determined that every subscript iota
would not be neglected when I stood before God.

The Spirit blows wherever it wills.
Mine was the letter, not the wind.
When, years later, I clutched letters in hand,
I held every one that spelt, I am right.
I missed the flame, but the wind still arrested;
and the Son spoke assaults on my well-crafted name.
The Spirit caught, sent me – though crooked –
blown by its wind to the street they call Straight.

Damascus Road: Pre-War

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In Damascus, people whisper when out in public. When a waiter arrives at a table, people stop talking…

Then he said what I kept hearing over and over on this trip: “Syrians cannot do this to other Syrians.”

(Janine di Giovanni, “Seven Days in Syria”)

In the days before spring burst in war,
some still danced and lazed in pools.
Some saw the lion on the prowl,
and others stood beside him.

The food was fine still, and the wine.
The poetry was rich; the fruit
was ripening on the trees. Yet some
saw wolves lurk on the fold.

The wolf was in us before we knew;
the lamb was our first and last chance.
The older, younger Noah’s son
bought sunshine with His bow.

And on the hills we see an ark
where lion, lamb and wolf lie down.*
Yet only when true peace is prized
and no-one hides from truth.

*after Ephraim the Syrian, “Hymns on the Nativity: Hymn 7”

Damascus Road: Paris Interlude

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http://www.aljazeera.com

Now it happens
in places with names we know:
near streets we have walked,
in stadiums and concert halls,
in coffee shops,
where violence never breathed before,
where we were safe.

Now we look for signs of links
to Syria, to al-Assad,
ISIL, and cells which fire.
Nothing has prepared us, yet
to others this has brewed for long.
The boundaries ever shifting say
that nothing was ever safe.

When French Charlie can’t say his name
without all heads turning at once,
the times are only waving a sign.
Once, when peasants were offered cake,
no-one ate to celebrate
Today, remember: Damascus’ streets bustled before,
and in the days of Noah men ate and drank
and no-one saw the rain.

Damascus Road: Cradle, Body, Light

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Your garments glisten, my brethren, as snow;—and fair is your shining in the likeness of Angels.
(St Ephraim the Syrian, “Hymn for the Baptised”)

You are the light of the world;
you are the body of Life.
The persecutor kicked you;
you kick within yourself,
yet you remain – kept, preserved;
you cannot be hidden.

You are the beaten body.
Yet the body shines more for being broken;
more like the Head with every thorn,
you live because your foes assault you.
Hold up the Body by the crown
and it will radiate before all men.

Glisten with water, with blood,
Child of God.
Your cradle is pillaged;
the persecutor walks your roads again.
Over seas, the body binds itself,
strikes and licks its wounds,
kicks its own goads.
Yet you are the child.

Glisten and radiate –
let the earth see and know.
Your roads stood firm beneath the Zealot’s feet;
your foes became your brothers. Shine:
though the cradle may fall, the life remains.

Shine, broken body, and stand.

Damascus Road: No location

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No flights to Damascus
and if there were
Safety would fly in the face of Intention.
Where knowledge is danger, is ignorance bliss?
I cannot walk Straight Street and know the vision
that blinded Saul, or see the home
where scales fell from well-meaning eyes.
That much is past; no flights can take me
where not even the locals go.
And would I even know, if by
some sudden wind, I found myself
on cobbled stones of Sunni blood,
and if I saw where churches fell
and watched the flight of history –
what could I know? What Qantas knows
is where the terminals make way,
not who lost home or who lost hope
or where the life is found.