Christmas 10: Sit at my right hand

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Caravaggio, “Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence”, 1609.

“The LORD says to my Lord…” (Psalm 110:1). These are surely some of the more mysterious words to appear in the Bible. Who is the second Lord to whom the writer, King David, is referring? Who could even be understood to be David’s Lord apart from God, the LORD? David, after all, was king of all Israel; no-one beside God was higher than him. And yet he looks to another Lord who will be made king over everything and who, mysteriously, will also be a priest forever too. In Jesus, the mystery is, if not resolved, at least given flesh so we can behold it.

Today’s piece is Vivaldi’s powerful setting of Psalm 110, entitled “Dixit Dominus” (“The LORD says”) after the first two Latin words in the psalm. I’ve chosen Caravaggio’s strange Nativity scene, which anachronistically features Saints Francis and Lawrence, to help us to reflect on the wonder that this mighty king chose to come as a tiny baby. Caravaggio’s famous chiaroscuro lighting manages to hihglight Jesus’ face without resorting to the artistic cliches of his day. The presence of two saints known for their love of the poor seems fitting for this simple, peasant scene into which the king of all creation chose to come to earth.

Sit at my right hand

All earth is your footstool;
soon so will your enemies be too.
Yet You sit at our feet, minuscule, helpless,
Creator on the floor of creation,
infinite made finite,
the dew of your youth around you on the hay.

Judge of the nations: the nations come
to see your defenseless form, to catch
the future glory in your minute moment.
Where is your sceptre? You drink
from your mother’s breast; cannot
yet lift your head, nor fight.

Await the voice: “Sit at my right hand.”
But first you will cry, “I thirst”,
and, “It is finished,” and, “My God,
my God, why?” Heaven surrounds you,
but first the sword and the nails.
First the manger, this moment in eternity’s grasp.

Spring Cleaning (II)

I go to prepare a place for you.
We do too;
with unsure anticipation, we make a space
atop the stairs, with bunting and books
and animals on the walls,
a cot, tiny clothes,
a place for your toys.

We also prepare
our days, our thoughts.
They too make space
for the big rearrange,
this reordering of selves,
this exchanging of grace.
We sweep out old cobwebs, air out stale pride.
Not only our home
but our hearts must be fit.
We prepare a space for you.

While eternity yawns its welcoming wait,
our big brother making a place for us too,
checking the time, vacuuming floors,
eagerly listening to knocks at the door…
Does my heart have room too
for eternity’s home?
We wait. We are waited for.
Time to make room.

Catechism 52

What hope does everlasting life hold for us?
It reminds us that this present fallen world is not all there is; soon we will live with and enjoy God forever in the new city, in the new heaven and the new earth, where we will be fully and forever freed from all sin and will inhabit renewed, resurrection bodies in a renewed, restored creation.
(New City Catechism)

No fall.
When the door swings out and, face-to-face we realise
all our clutching life could only mimic, never be,

we shall not fall
for all our walking here has been stumbling.
Now we stumble –
for who wouldn’t, when wandering in cloud?
Then we shall move

in the fluency of union,
fruit restored,
life itself again – no shadow –
and never will we grasp for knowing
that we are held

and stay.

No turning

I dreamt a ferryboat dream where,
crossing some unknown stretch of deep,
we struck another time and you
were lost into the depths of There,
and, Orpheus, I wandered far
where loss and past commingled in
faint glimpses of your head – behind
only, never quite your face.
And when re-united, by those turns
that dreams sometimes have when full known,
I wondered where within the tale
we stood – if I had turned behind
and lost you, only now to have
you back again, in some sweet form
of ancient woe retold with joy,
or if the worst was yet to be.
All dreams will pass, and I awoke,
the ferry gone, and all of our
dark passings-by now still.
And in the stasis of the night,
I looked up to the ceiling, through
the roof, to stars – white-bright, though dead –
and still were all night’s ferryboats;
no shadow turned, or clung onto
the glimpse of dreams to be.

Before we save the daylight

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Settle.
The city is quietly occupied, the day protected –
as though something must be done.
Watch a screen by all means,
but first gather friends,
and walk to the shops to lubricate the day.
Or hit the streets, if you choose –
to enjoy unexpected sunshine, and the hum,
like a ball hissing through the sky,
of a city in agreement.
Deeper meaning is lost, yet perhaps we still glimpse Sabbath:
a quiet acceptance that today we need not be boss.
Whatever sport we make, however we will spend
the lost hour of this night –
rejoice now in daylight,
in a moment which can neither be bought nor saved,
yet beckons the endless holiday,
the game that can only be won.

August

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I gather moments like raindrops,
         like snowdrops:
these microscopic buds of spring
         tricked by sun
     to come out, one     by one;
  I see
how hesitant can be
              can be
     the grandest glimpse of things
               and sing.

I catch the way your moments dance
         from distance –
yet close enough to ring
         the shadows into song
       in soft, legato days  of praise.
   I find
how hopefully we hold
               and hold
      in tentative expectancy
                  to see.

You hold our hope in moments of joy,
          unalloyed.
What we do not expect
          grips tight. I neglect
       too soon what we know.    Let go
     of fears
that pass. Joy is forever,
            forever
       the things that stir our hearts in song.
               Not long.

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Catechism 1

What is our only hope in life and death?
That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, 
both in life and death, to God and to our Saviour 
Jesus Christ.
(New City Catechism)

Not my own; what then?
Within this case, these bones, this skin,
World seen through these squinting eyes,
Heart held in this pulsing cage,

     I see, I look, I hold, I yearn,

And fail to yearn for what will be.
Not my own, but bought by grace,
Remaining in this human frame,
I must give all for all He gave

    And learn to yearn
    With grace-shaped heart.

I watch these other hopes fall off
Like leaves, like dross, like passing light,
Watch eternity stretch, bind, hold,
And gather me in with hope.