Damascus Road Prayers: Prologue

Landscape with olive trees and yellow flowers, Serjilla, Syria www.flickr.com
Landscape with olive trees and yellow flowers, Serjilla, Syria
http://www.flickr.com

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one true God.

Glory be to Him; and may His grace and mercy be upon us for ever. Amen.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, by whose glory, the heaven and the earth are filled; Hosanna in the highest. 

Blessed is He who has come, and is to come in the name of the Lord; glory be to Him in the highest.

(Prologue for daily prayer, Syriac Orthodox Church)


It is a wild and rainy day in Melbourne as I sit down to write this first post, God willing, of a new series – and the rain is fitting, because my poem for today takes inspiration from a hymn by 4th century poet and theologian, St Ephraim the Syrian, a prayer focused on the story of Noah.

O God of mercies Who didst refresh Noah, he too refreshed Thy mercies. He offered sacrifice and stayed the flood; he presented gifts and received the promise. With prayer and incense he propitiated Thee: with an oath and with the bow Thou wast gracious to him; so that if the flood should essay to hurt the earth, the bow should stretch itself over against it, to banish it away and hearten the earth. As Thou hast sworn peace so do Thou maintain it, and let Thy bow strive against Thy wrath!

Wrath is not a concept that our world likes to hear about, but in the context of Syria as it stands today the words seem to have a powerful immediacy. We can easily imagine Syrian believers today joining the congregation of Ephraim’s day responding to the priest with:

Stretch forth Thy bow against the flood, for lo! it has lifted up its waves against our walls!

As communities of Christian believers who have stood strong in Syria for nearly 2000 years leave their homes, possibly never to return, we need to stand with them in this prayer: a prayer for a land sorely besieged by the floods around it, desperately in need of our prayers and our solidarity with them.

In aid of this, and inspired by Johnnie Moore‘s call for the Western church to tell the stories of our Syrian brothers and sisters, I have decided to put together a series of poems structured around the ancient Syriac Orthodox daily prayers and the hymns of St Ephraim: an attempt to unearth some of the rich beauty of Syria’s Christian history, to remind us what is threatened, and what a powerful contribution the Syrian church has made to the Christian world.

So here is my first offering. I hope it might be a blessing to you as you read it today.


Damascus Road Prayers: Prologue

Father –

the bow is in the sky, but the floods fall still.

Our walls have stood, but now they totter.

The olive branches are wilting;

no doves fly here any more.

Father –

Noah turned away wrath with his prayer, with his sacrifice.

We are the sacrifice. We have stood, and stood.

Father, where –

where is mercy’s refreshing?

Heaven and earth are full; we are pouring

libation on broken ground, our pots empty.

Father, the mercy

which turned its bow upward…

Turn in Your mercy. We turn now to You.

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Lent: The Wait, the Weight 2

How long? How long? I drag my voice.
I cling, I waiver, I thirst, I desire –
My spirit shall rejoice.

In silence, in hum of background noise,
I stretch my neck from familiar mire –
How long? How long? I unravel voice.

The wait, the weight of hidden joys,
When all my sky clouds round and gyres –
My spirit shall rejoice.

Expectancy grows numb. Life silences choice.
Better to shake, better to blaze on fire.
How long? How long? I unfurl my voice.

Complacency leadens; I wave but cannot hoist.
Yet what is lost? the dove’s coo enquires.
Can the spirit still rejoice?

The soul’s pivot; heaviness gathers poise.
Let anchored hope never expire.
How long? How long? Lift high your voice.
My spirit, my spirit shall rejoice.

Lent: The Wait, the Weight 1

Waves drag, anchor fails –
my God my God why

In this torpor, what lifts?
The heart, bird-like, hovers –
an albatross, a vulture?
Yet a dove dives deep and holds;
it coos what cannot be cried.

My God my God why
– too heavy for words, yet hands can be raised,
barely, above the waves.
This is enough. Moan, wail, cry.
Words are not needed where the Spirit has flight.

Trust, and open your drowning arms.

Catechism 37

Detail from a painting by Antonio da Correggio Wikimedia Commons
Detail from a painting by Antonio da Correggio
Wikimedia Commons

Catechism 37

How does the Holy Spirit help us?

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, comforts us, guides us, gives us spiritual gifts and the desire to obey God; and he enables us to pray and to understand God’s Word.

(New City Catechism)

Dove:

my best attempts are straw.

My righteousness is dust, my hope

of being more is void.

Dove:

Your peace like river flows;

your olive branch restores, implores

us into growing grace.

Dove:

rest on my spirit; open eyes

and ears and heart. Give gifts,

give life. Give comfort in this dross.

Dove:

only when Your flame descends,

and burns, convicts – O gentle peace –

only then, release.