Christmas 8: The Name

Not an unusual name,
though a powerful one.
Many Joshuas down the street no doubt
hoped for some of their hero’s kudos:
if not the power to bring down Jericho, then at least
the nod of approval as if they could if they tried.
Yet this one would be different. No
family lineage dictating the name,
but beating wings and the memory
of a thumping heart at the dining table
as the angel had brought her his news.
He saves. A grand claim
for the eight-day-old lying
half-asleep, half-stirring
while Joseph held the pair of pigeons,
their measly offering, a gift that could
not ever suffice, would have to suffice,
though the rules were soon to change,
as the dozing Saviour surely knew.

What we don’t know

It is hard for those who live near a Bank
To doubt the security of their money.

T.S. Eliot

Only those who have felt the cold
will remember to close the door.

Only those who are fallen or proud
will perceive the rule of law.

Only those who live far from the bowl
will know it means to need more.

Only those who believe they might win
will bother to check the score.

Lent: Emmaus 2

The heavens are telling the glory of God –
    (tweet tweet, like like, instant message)
His voice goes out to the ends of the earth –
    (I fast, I tithe, I pray twice a day)
Heaven and earth will pass away –
    (Lord, let me sit at your right hand)
Before His law will fade.

In wilderness, make straight the way –
     (I thank you, Lord, I’m not like him)
The Son of Man must suffer and die –
    (O surely Lord not I?)
Heaven and earth will pass away –
     (Anti-ageing cream for sale)
His promises remain.

Catechism 15

Since no one can keep the law, what is its purpose?
That we may know the holy nature and will of God, and the sinful nature and disobedience of our hearts; and thus our need of a Savior. The law also teaches and exhorts us to live a life worthy of our Savior.
(New City Catechism)

So earthly good starves, yet Law stands,
a good tree planted in sick soil,
exemplar of life, arrow to Eden.

And we, though our stomachs
sicken at the sight, may eat –
if we first learn to kneel at its roots.

Desperation must come first: the cry 
of a helpless heart eternally lost,
mercy the one last, half-hoping hope.

Then the tree: planted in the place of skulls,
and the Exemplar ascending,
desperate and hopeful, merciful to the last.

Catechism 14

Did God create us unable to keep his law?

No, but because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation is fallen; we are all born in sin and guilt, corrupt in our nature and unable to keep God’s law.

(New City Catechism)

 

The spirit is willing but the flesh languishes,

new laws created in place of old:

first, If you eat of this fruit you surely won’t die;

now, what I would do, I cannot do.

 

In the bone, this error: entwined

with the impulse behind flights to the sky,

yet sickened, wizened, good trees in bad soil,

good stunted and cast in wrong directions,

 

engines against the Almighty which,

in His will, could be engines of manifold grace,

but legacy bred too deep in the marrow

for any earthly good to remove.

Lent 29: Wednesday of Fourth Week

Detail from Rembrandt van Rijn, "Christ Driving Money Changes from the Temple"
Detail from Rembrandt van Rijn, “Christ Driving Money Changes from the Temple”

The blind, the lame, are let inside;

the cursed now are blessed.

The king in triumph rides upon

a humble donkey’s colt.

 

The temple tables overturned,

the mind thrown into chaos,

prophecies are rendered true

in ways that chill our hearts.

 

The unexpected king burns bright

with anger at the sham.

He knows the depths of truest Law

and dies to see it kept.

Catechism 13

Detail from Jan Wijnants, "Parable of the Good Samaritan"
Detail from Jan Wijnants, “Parable of the Good Samaritan”

Can anyone keep the law of God perfectly?

Since the fall, no mere human has been able to keep the law of God perfectly, but consistently breaks it in thought, word, and deed.

(New City Catechism)

 

All this being said –

the neighbour languishes

where thieves

and Levites have left him.

 

The Samaritan shames

the priests, the sons of David.

Yet even his heart

turns the wrong way to worship.

 

The eyes of righteousness

scan all of earth’s children.

The straightest human heart

is too crooked to reach heaven.

 

Jericho’s road, ridden

with bumps and threats

takes the best among us

and casts us to its side.

 

But look: one comes

like a Son of Man.

He makes only level paths

and follows with ready feet…

Lent 21: Tuesday of Third Week

Detail from Jan Lievens, "Pilate washing his hands"
Detail from Jan Lievens, “Pilate washing his hands”

 

Rise from the ash-heap. Rise from Law.

Lift your eyes to see –

 

Turn your eyes to see

where calluses and pious scabs abound,

 

where hearts are hardened, hands dried from much washing

which does nothing to purify –

 

turn. Turn your hearts to purify,

turn to the Son, to the slow rising of the Son.

 

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be consumed…

Your hearts are not so clean;

 

your hearts are hard, so clean

your hands and turn your hearts towards the Son…

Now I tell you (After Rowan Williams’ “Great Sabbath”)

Image: detail from Carl Bloch, "Sermon on the Mount"
Image: detail from Carl Bloch, “Sermon on the Mount”

Well, it’s high time that I got down to sharing with you some of the quite extraordinary poetry of former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. When Williams became Archbishop, many were unsure of his theology or what he stood for in his faith. Yet read his poetry and you see that, at heart, he is a poet: both a blessing and a curse, because poetry is full of nuance and complexity, something which can both aid and challenge our understanding of orthodox faith.

Today’s poem is based on Williams’ poem “Great Sabbath” (not readily available online, sadly, but you can view it here courtesy of Google Books). One of Williams’ gifts as a poet is his use of camouflage: the way that both his poetic form and the Biblical truths in his poetry creep up on you unexpected. So, to let my poem and his speak for themselves, I will say no more.

 

Now I tell you (After “Great Sabbath”)

Once before, they’d gathered by a peak
While gnats and flies buzzed around sore ears
And sun beat down on dull heads. It was a time
When mountain peaks had seemed too tall to climb
And law, they’d reasoned, must come to meet them here.
Yet law, tenacious, raised its voice to speak

In volumes which could never be ignored.
Higher than their ears could reach, it had come
Down to their dark, while scent of melted gold
And stink of drink and hot revelry turned cold
Lingered with them, and the righteous sun
Had blasted into every hidden store.

Today, the day at zenith, the sun burst
Across the bright-lit ridge where he stood.
Ears itched to hear his new-fangled thoughts:
Would he teach them a battle-cry? Sharp retorts
To put tyrants and bullies in their place for good?
The air rustled, scalps burned, and at first

They thought they heard familiar strains of songs
Taught at bedsides by mothers, aunts: that word,
Blessed, a promise of no-one begging bread
And lands overflowing. (Milk and honey, they’d said.)
Today was dry; heat ate up much of what they heard.
Yet here and there a shock: cheeks turned toward wrongs,

The extra mile walked, the second tunic given.
Here, Simeon knew Eli still had his shirt
And Eli frowned when Enoch passed him by.
Hearts had excuses, but still the same reply:
A hand which rose to take in every hurt,
A back which gladly let itself be riven.

What, then, was blessing? A code? Sheer wordplay?
Some scratched their heads, others left for softer fare;
Some stayed, ears prickly, consciences seared.
Yet something of sheepish hope also appeared,
And as he paused, his lips a constant prayer,
He burnt their hearts with all his brightest day.