To be a pariah takes only hate
and the unshaken conviction that you,
above all others,
To be an outcast you only need yell
when a listening ear
might salvage a soul.
To be Jeremiah, you need more than that:
not only conviction, not only the truth
but the burden of weeping,
the burden of love,
the knowledge that kingdoms are built of people,
that people and kingdoms are bound to fall,
and yet to love them all.
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”Jonah 4:4
The answer, of course, has to be no. No, it isn’t right for Jonah to be angry. He has just identified one of God’s must defining characteristics for Israel – His mercy – and framed it as a problem, something to “forestall”. So no, this anger is not right. Yet God doesn’t tell Jonah he is in the wrong. Instead, He starts a dialogue with him, and it’s one of the most intimate images of God conversing with humanity that we get in the bible: Jonah petulant and sulky, and very much in the wrong, and God gently, patiently drawing him into conversation, opening him to to grace.
We will see more of what God has to say to Jonah and what this means in the coming days, but today I want simply to sit with this Advent truth: that God, in His righteousness, has not come to us to condemn us but to be near to us and to draw us to Him. Like the father gently questioning Jonah, God has come to walk, sit and dwell beside us. He has personally entered our lives to draw us into His life, and He meets us here as we are, messy anger and all, ready to change us with Emmanuel’s tender love.
is broken, or
sticks underfoot like porridge.
Voice grows tired, and
heart turns wild
at the endless, savage
price of love.
I learn Eden and Golgotha
while I wipe the floor again.
Body breaks, is broken,
tomorrow is new.
What happens, he wonders,
shattered by the mess, by the day,
by the constancy of demands,
by the ever-present lesson of patience,
by the daily failure to learn this patience -
What happens, he asks, when my love is broken?
Nothing happens. The day goes on,
all is reset as night arrives;
all but the weight that pulls at his shoulders,
that sags like his soul has a leak in its middle.
night is as long and restless as the one before,
and morning will come with its worries anew.
But this still happens. The glory happens,
though it does not shout or cry.
Day on day, God dwells in this mystery:
that love can wake up
what love has done today.
Bins at the curb, I pause
in a night of deep quiet
the thought that no-one else is here.
Sleepy suburban street rarely parties;
nights are seldom wild around here.
Yet silence catches with surprise:
no-one walking home from shops,
no night-time joggers,
no cars coming home.
No feet sharing this curb with mine.
And this weekly domestic act becomes
a moment of strange resistance,
a heartbeat-long yearning
to see other neighbours lugging their bins,
to duck down the street to No.16 and say,
"This package is yours. The postie
dropped it here by mistake."
But it's after 8 and I've no mask;
the edge of this block is the wall for my feet.
To love my neighbour tonight is to go
back inside and pray.
First you will learn about smiles,
how much you smile,
what's contained in a smile,
what's implied in the different degrees of smile:
in a curl of the lip at a funny thought,
in the mouth's outstretched corners
to greet the close acquaintance,
in the sardonic phrase,
the empathic moment.
All these things you will learn
when they cannot be seen.
And eyes. You will learn about eyes.
How readily you can recognise eyes
across a courtyard or carpark, how
much you can guess of a heart or a day
from the eyes poking out above the nose.
And breath. You will learn about breath.
You will taste it, smell it, absorb it all day.
You will choose your words and your silence to preserve
moments when you can simply breathe.
You will long to stand
in the garden
beside your office
and do nothing
in that afternoon air
but take off your mask and breathe.
And faces - you will catch, in their absence,
the beauty, the wonder of faces,
the heart-catching, God-splendoured glory of faces.
You will long for the faces
that you loved and despised,
will search the room for these faces,
will wish that these faces
could transfigure their otherness straight into yours.
You will cover your face
and stifle your breath
and halve your smile
in hope of the day,
to work for the day,
when all of our faces are back.
Yes, it takes our freedoms
because sometimes love does that:
for neighbour, for stranger,
for one who walks the same streets,
walks by your desk,
shops where you shop,
shares the same air.
Sometimes love lays down
rights - freedom of movement,
freedom of assembly,
freedom to smile and have others see -
because sometimes love judges
the more needful thing,
the truer way to be free.
Love, sensing Self flex muscles,
Circumvents the question, takes a detour
Along a Jericho road,
A thoroughfare often taken, seldom observed.
Love stretches the story out,
Beyond expectation, beyond our trust,
Defeats its stock of righteous men,
Then surprises with a foe.
Love befriends the enemy,
Gives face and heart to the hated one.
Love helps us up the donkey's back,
Carries us safe, far from home.
Love takes flexed muscles, unflexes them,
Unwinds Self's tautly wrought syntax.
Wrong question, Love says. True question is:
Whose neighbour am I?
At the shops and in the street,
We look at faces, look at feet,
Breathing quickly as we pass,
Lest the germs should get to us.
Seeking family on a screen,
Craving you and us and we.
What will each tomorrow bring?
(Can we handle one more thing?)
In this and each new instance,
Can we love, safe from a distance?