Advent 8: The axe is lying at the root of the trees

Truth be told, we forgot all about the axe.
Busy with our landscaping and renovations, we
neglected our gardens, all tangles of weeds
and fruit trees budding nothing while we poisoned the soil.

No surprise to find that it should come to this,
the moment of reckoning when our garden would judge.
Yet we were golden and glimmering,
felt eternal for too long.
The ending was never a flicker of thought,
the last things were the last things
on our minds.

No Ghosts This Year #10

There was nothing else he could tell Pa now.

Nothing else, because words could not convey the kind of knowledge he now held. It was knowledge of an utterly certain though intangible kind, yet it carried with it also the equally palpable certainty that none would believe it. He could not tell you how he knew, yet he did know: that the man he had directed to Burden Street had been the killer, that he was in some unavoidable way to blame for the death that had taken place there, and that his life was now forfeit because of what he had done. Indeed, he had already known this in some way prior to this moment; known, that is, that his life was forfeit because of something unspeakable within him. Was that not the reason his classmates mocked him, why they called him “Savage”, why that name always seemed so apt for him, why Laura kept her distance, or why he knew he had to keep his distance from her? It all made sense. It always had made sense. Yet, like Cassandra before the fall of Troy, what he knew was never to be believed, however disastrous the consequences.

And so silently he took the book from Pa, said, “Don’t worry, it’s nothing,” and made to get ready for bed. If Pa was unconvinced, he said nothing, only paused briefly in the doorway to add, “You know where I am if you want to chat.” It was one of his common lines – whenever he could see hints of unhappiness in Philip’s face – and Philip would reply, “In the backyard”. Only, not tonight. He said, “Yes,” and looked at the cover of the book.

He had read A Christmas Carol some years ago, and images from it were still burnt into his mind, most powerfully the Ghost of Christmas Future, that figure who was all the more terrifying for being silent and invisible. Yet he was haunted too by the image of Marley, the ghost whose face first appeared in the door knocker and who Philip somehow expected to see each time he went to his own front door. He had been haunted too by the ghosts that had hovered in the night air after Marley’s appearance to Scrooge, those souls tormented by unresolved wrongdoing, doomed to linger in that tortured half-life of theirs, a life that, for months after, Philip had believed himself condemned to.

No-one else knew why. At school, he was without fault. Yet that faultlessness was a trial to maintain, especially when it was nothing like the world within. And now, he felt sure, the world within had caught up with events outside of him. The murderer inside him had crept out and taken hold of circumstances, even against his conscious will, to take another life, just as he had done so many times in his own head, when mocked, when ridiculed, when set up for failure again and again. Each time he had wished death upon another: each of those times had culminated in this moment when a murderer had seen him in the street and, knowing at first sight the murderous kinship they held, had asked him for direction. There was no doubt in Philip’s mind: there would be ghosts for him tonight, and ghosts more brutal than any that Scrooge had seen.


The court was in session. The witnesses, ghoulish but familiar all of them, were summoned one by one. First, the swimming instructor Philip had wished dead when he was nine. Second, the emergency teacher who always found reason to tell him off when he was in Grade Six. Third, a convoy of his peers. Fourth, Laura. She could not even speak. All she could do was point at him. And then, fifth, the Burden Street Stranger. And sixth, the dead man at Number 12 who, though Philip had never seen, was emblazoned in his mind. He had no face, only eyes, and the eyes stared into Philip’s.

Seated at the head of the court was the judge. He too was faceless yet saw everything. And when the witnesses had all spoken he raised his gavel and beat Philip’s resounding judgment into the table, into the earth below. There was nothing Philip could do. Panicked, he ran from his bed. Only water could save him, if even that would do.

Hurriedly, he entered the bathroom and slammed the door, stripping his pyjamas from his body, now drenched in condemning sweat. The sweat knew. The bathroom mirror knew. He did not wait for the water to heat before standing under it. He did not close his eyes. He simply stared through the shower screen at the sight of his face in the basin mirror. The water gathered around his face. The shower screen began to mist. Still Philip stared. Still the face and the mirror knew.

He barely heard Sarah knock. He barely had the presence of mind to cover himself as she came in. He barely registered what she said; was it, “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before”? Perhaps. At least he gave up covering himself then, and let her enter the water to take him out.

And then, “Mum, Dad.” Yes, she called, “Mum, Dad.”

And where were they? Did they come straight away? Draped in towels, he felt himself be taken. He felt the couch beneath him. He heard his mother say, “Dad, can you keep an eye on him while…”

And then the phone. It was a noisy phone. The numbers always beeped when you touched them. He heard her speak but not her words. “Easy there, mate,” said Pa, as he sat. And Pa’s soft arms enveloped him.

Catechism 32

What do justification and sanctification mean?

Justification means our declared righteousness before God, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection for us. Sanctification means our gradual, growing righteousness, made possible by the Spirit’s work in us.

(New City Catechism)

First, declared –
First a righteousness which comes
            from above
in shower, blood,
            avenging love.
                        First the gavel’s pound upon
            the bench declares
Then the change –
            “As you are, and
                        have been called –
now be each day. Now live a life
                        worthy of
this calling, worthy
            of this Life.”
                        First the calling, first New Life,
            then life transformed
                        by Spirit.

Mark 11

No doubt
if food was all that He required
He could have made it bear for Him
but leaves had presaged early fruit
and nothing showed there yet.

Not the season
for figs, and yet
He who made the fig tree sprout
could change the seasons with His will.
If curses worked, then why not blessings?
Why leave it languishing?

Inside His house,
perhaps the answer: His tree,
His orchard, refusing fruit.
The the clay says to the potter, Why?
O God, we ask, and yet we trust
for daily signs of fruit on us.

We cannot grow alone.

Catechism 28

If last week’s catechism question was hard, this week’s is vastly harder, and it’s with great trepidation that I approach setting this to poetry. But the question of divine punishment of sin is one from which we cannot escape if we want to grapple with what it means to live before a righteous God. My prayer is that we might see His goodness and glory emerge from it all.

What happens after death to those not united to Christ by faith?
At the day of judgment they will receive the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them. They will be cast out from the favorable presence of God, into hell, to be justly and grievously punished, forever.
(New City Catechism)

What justice?
Faith demands more than reason knows
And turns the human eye away
From self to righteousness.

What reason?
The burning heart forges its own hell
And turns itself from humble faith
To Self’s false righteousness.

What answer?
That all are warned, without excuse.
Yet mercy saves and waits, commands
The righteous-made to speak.

Catechism 18

Will God allow our disobedience and idolatry to go unpunished?

No, every sin is against the sovereignty, holiness, and goodness of God, and against his righteous law, and God is righteously angry with our sins and will punish them in his just judgment both in this life, and in the life to come.

(New City Catechism)


Goodness, then, is broken –
            innocence lost –
                        holiness offended.
Order, now disrupted, tends to judgment.

All creation groans;
            its creatures turn
                        against us now.
Righteous truth burns us when it shines.

We hide among the leaves
            yet storms will snap
                        and fire will reveal
what the life to come cannot contain.

Eden fractured, life stained:
            what did we expect
                        who had all good
at fingertips and crushed it with greed?

Lent 37: Thursday of Fifth Week

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons


Look, the shepherd separates:

sheep from goats He divides,

bone and marrow He prises open,

hearts’ deep secrets He dissects.


Look, the true ones walk

through streets and feed the poor.

The children give their food to dogs,

the princes clothe the naked…


Look; deep inside, now look.

Secret acts reveal our secret thoughts.

When none around you look, He sees.

The shepherd separates.

Lent 36: Wednesday of Fifth Week


And it will reveal

who has taken talents, hid

them in the frugal field,

who has sown what has been given

and let small things grow.


And it will reveal

the hearts of those who plant and reap,

the hearts of servants great

and small, the motives of the heart’s

dark countries. The light


will reveal, it will

shine into chasms, abscesses,

show forth the truth of what

we did while left unto our own

devices and desires. Let


the truth shine brightly in.


                    In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger
(T.S. Eliot, “Gerontion”)
Still He bursts into our courts
Where our Pharisee-hearts change coins for doves
And the tables we man to show who’s in charge
Are upturned by His rage.
Still He comes with sword to divide
Soul from marrow and father from son,
Our many-tufted prickling weeds
From among the wheat.
Still He comes with light, with flame,
The ex-nihilo energy of singular force,
Moses’ bush-consuming-fire,
The fiery-bright I Am.
Still He comes to shake, to heal,
To wash in the waters of forty-day-flood,
To call frail Lazarus out of his tomb
And shake the rich man’s knees.
Still He comes like lamb, like lion,
A thief in the forests of the night,
An unblemished, bleeding sacrifice –
Mighty, grace in His mane.