Winter sets in,
rubs his damp feet all through the laundry,
wipes his everwet hair with each handtowel,
breathes ice on my windscreen,
cries soggy complaints on my feet.
And somewhere we are lost
between fire and candle, lost
in the long, slow ordinary that yawns
Days blink; you miss the moment
of daylight, the chance
to dry out and be.
spans the gap between
now and the length of days you long for,
creeping up to you
in beggar's clothes,
with a leper's lips and the nagging
that you are caught in finitude, built
to stretch in timelessness,
bound by time, to give of time,
to bide time, to abide.
“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.
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.
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)
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,
life itself again – no shadow –
and never will we grasp for knowing
that we are held
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.
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.
I gather moments like raindrops,
these microscopic buds of spring
tricked by sun
to come out, one by one;
how hesitant can be
the grandest glimpse of things
I catch the way your moments dance
from distance –
yet close enough to ring
the shadows into song
in soft, legato days of praise.
how hopefully we hold
in tentative expectancy
You hold our hope in moments of joy,
What we do not expect
grips tight. I neglect
too soon what we know. Let go
that pass. Joy is forever,
the things that stir our hearts in song.
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.
You’ve heard, of course, how Blaise Pascal played dice – An arbitrary way to find the truth, As though the logic, weighed up in a trice (A coin tossed in the air), could render proof Redundant. Can eternity be found In such impulsive propositions? We Feel that faith should demand much surer ground. All the same, cast your eyes about you; see The endless space of universe and how Your eyes cannot contain, nor can your mind, The start or end of anything. Well now: Trust your instinct, trust the facts you find; Either way, your trust’s a game of chance, But God pursues us in this fretful dance.
“Am I okay?” the question asks itself.
The mind retreats within to make reply
And eyes forever dart towards the shelf
(The cupboard open, fruit left out to dry).
Unsettled souls put back the oil of joy
And rifle through supplies to find the seed.
The memory bank’s a plastic, moulding joy,
Responsive to the anxious way we knead,
New lies put in for truth, new fears for peace.
For we transform the past each time we check,
And, moulding former years, these years can’t cease.
There’ll always be new jokers in the deck,
New ways to stop ourselves from singing praise
And counting blessings in these blessed days.
The lies I tell myself are always true;
I make them true with every strained belief,
Confirming in myself the self I rue
And batter in my mind without relief.
The other possibility is faint;
It’s scarred by life, by nails, by Cross’s shame.
I take white surfaces and then I paint
Dark colours which I call by my own name.
The patterns which I paint declare in me
The ridges and the grooves; the light I leave
For other selves. I paint the worst in me.
Tomorrow I will see what I believe:
Far safer for today to say the worst
Than trust the best and end up still accursed.
The leap required steps out into thin air,
For air is all I see, and yet I know –
Know what? what’s known? – the promises are there
Yet soft like wind and silent like the snow.
The space of possibility is vast
And frightens as it welcomes and gives flight;
It echoes with the failures of the past
And glares with futures, blank for being bright.
Determinism sings a well-known strain,
The soundtrack of tomorrow’s yesterday.
If I should leap or if I should refrain
Is something which my history dare not say.
The answer lies in scars which, scarred for me,
Give rise to feet and lift me in their plea.
Lift feet and jump: the air is thick with grace;
The ground caves in the longer that you stand.
The chasm opens more the more you pace,
Yet time and space are pebbles in His hand.
No terra firma stands beneath your soles,
For land is weakest when it’s built on fear
And while you wait these fast-expanding holes
Make nothing of the truth that now appears.
So live: eternity is wide and welcoming,
And give: give all; the best you’ll give is loss
And glory’s weight outweighs the loss you bring.
When truth burns bright, it will burn out the dross
And emptiness will fill with very Light,
More deep than grave, more radiant than sight.