Christmas 2: Never Faint Nor Fear

Today, as well as the day for the year’s biggest sales, is also Boxing Day and, as the mysterious carol “Good King Wenceslas” should remind us, St Stephen’s Day. Most likely the Stephen commemorated today was the one martyred in the Acts of the Apostles, so one tradition of today is to sing carols that remind us of his faith. It’s also a day traditionally not about spending but of giving: boxing up gifts to give to the poor, hence the name “Boxing Day”. Today’s poem, for the second day of Christmas, draws together these themes, via an old St Stephen’s Day carol of indeterminate age, played beautifully in this version.

Never Faint Nor Fear

The tree still stands, the presents gone;
They’re boxed and put away.
We rest our feet and pick at food
Left over from yesterday.

Saint Václav and his squire walk
Through snow and in Christ’s footsteps;
We follow signs instead that tell
Of bargains and tax offsets.

If Stephen sat amongst us here,
He’d wonder at our tinsel.
The red, perhaps, foreshadows blood?
So sing the old-time minstrels.

O never faint, and never fear,
Unless your debt be looming.
Pay back your credit card and watch
The lowly rose e’er blooming.

The child soon will mount the cross;
How well St Stephen knew this.
Yet do not dwell so long on that,
Lest it should ruin Christmas.

Instead, you might behold the sight:
The Son of Man is shining.
He climbed the tree, for you, for me,
In sin and error pining.

It is not yours to climb, and yet
The grace may prove contagious.
Let Christmas drive you out in storms
With love and gifts outrageous.

Poetic Translations: The King and the Maiden

One of the great mysteries and wonders that we can be reflecting on this Advent season is the Incarnation: the mystery that the God of the universe would become a human, even a defenceless baby. To explore this mystery, Søren Kierkegaard tells the story of a king who loves a poor and humble girl and wants her to be lifted by his love, not always ashamed of the difference between them. Here is a slightly playful, poetic translation of the story. You can find fuller, more accurate renditions of it in abundance online, but they often leave out the playfulness of Kierkegaard’s style. So here is my offering, for what it is worth. May it give some food for thought this advent.
 

You ask me how God might be teacher
 	and saviour;
you ask how His love might drive Him to teach.
You ask how His Love could love over vast distance
as divides all low learners from this teacher of Love?

Well, once upon a time, a king loved a maiden –

	No, wait! Is this kids’ stuff?
		A fairy tale? Where
	is the systematic doctrine?
		Don’t patronise
			with tales…

Well, so thought old Athens, when Socrates spoke
of food, and drink, and doctors, and trifles;
I wish I could only speak of such trifles,
for we all, from birth, understand food and drink
(and the need to see doctors)
and the high ways of kings are so often removed
from the eating and drinking of mere men.

But let us move on; we mustn’t get stuck.
A king loved a maiden; let’s leave it like that.
And this king, unlike poets, was not tied up tight
with the “wisdom” that hampers clear-headedness; he
loved that low maiden (this much we’ve seen),
and he loved her without the High Rule of a king.

His courtiers said, What a favour the king
will bestow on the low one! These words made him sick.
They drove him to fury; that wasn’t his love.
He would love her, this maiden, 
      such that she’d never see
a high, lofty patron, 
      a detached, distant king.

Impossible! say the king’s courtiers. You
are the king! 		Overshadow her 
with your king’s grandeur!
Make her feel lowly! 	Unworthy! 	You’re king!

How can Love straddle
 the high and low 	yet
not overshadow the low 	into their grave?

Love must become
like the lowly it loves.

The teacher must be like the student;
 	the king
must make Himself low	
	
	like the maiden.

(Adapted and translated from Søren Kierkegaard, “God as Teacher and Saviour (Guden som Lærer og Frelser)”, from Philosophical Fragments (Philosophiske Smuler), http://sks.dk/ps/txt.xml)

20 Contemplations #15: Intimacy

caravaggio_taking_of_christ_ireland-resized-600.jpg
Caravaggio – The Betrayal of Christ

He comes near, able to touch, to be touched,
and be wounded, to kiss and to be kissed:
the grateful kiss, the sleepy child dismiss-
ing himself to sleep; the mother’s kiss, a smudge
on freshly-bathed cheek; the plotter’s grudge
expressed in the curl of doubled lips,
the final, false farewell, the fatal tryst.
He comes to feel the touch of friend and judge.
He comes to raise His hand to touch the world,
to put together Jacob’s broken hip,
to be the salve on Adam’s missing rib,
to gather in His family, unfurled,
and show that God’s love isn’t scared to feel
the pain of touch to make all new, to heal.

Catechism 51

Of what advantage to us is Christ’s ascension?
Christ physically ascended on our behalf, just as he came down to earth physically on our account, and he is now advocating for us in the presence of his Father, preparing a place for us, and also sends us his Spirit.
(New City Catechism)

Not waiting in vain,
men and women thirsting at a cloudless sky,
nor farmers ploughing a desert.
Not children
hiding behind a veil of hands
or the clenched-fisted ones in the corner.
No metaphor sates us:
only a body will do. Only
face-to-face, Father to Son,
full sight in place of dim mirrors.
And so a body grows,
and for a body, a home with walls
solid to the touch, but never closed,
a welcome that has arms,
a priest who bears scars,
a love decked with nails,
crowned,
risen, no fall.

Northbound at dusk

Jeffrey Smart painted this dying day:
burnt orange in floating smokestack steam,
needle-lights stretching in fluorescent dream,
the sojourn of light sinking in silent sway.
Daytime paints its canopy away
and minutes pass in inches as we glean
each moment, weigh each instant gram by gram.
Apologies buy flowers; much to say,
yet time is rare. I wish that now could be
a canvas on a wall that we could share.
I cross the bridge; I mount the street of bells.
Ascend, descend; the sound within us swells,
and expectation greets the seated air.
No movement; move. I gather you to me.

image

Nazarene

Image: Open Doors
Image: Open Doors

“We can only silence the guns of hatred with the guns of love.”

– Nigerian church leader, quoted in Open Doors prayer letter


I am broken in my love:

I cry, I steal,

I hurt, I hate.

My heart has guns which fire and kill

and I am daily killed.

 

I do not understand my friend;

my neighbour dies,

I pass him by.

I do not walk across my street

or see you in your home.

 

The scarf around your head sparks fear;

my crucifix

is shame to you.

The Nazarene upon the cross

lives not like I have lived.

 

All exiles, while the Garden grows

far from our homes,

we never meet

or open hands to shake, to greet

and give as we’ve received.

 

Yet love transformed by crown of thorns

has power to

unload these guns.

Such love has wounds to mend the rift

and make us many One.

 

O I am broken in my love.

I cry, I steal,

I hurt, I hate.

O Jesus, Nazarene, come heal;

come open doors and sing.