Ordinary Wednesday: Everlasting Dust

While I try to go through each day with my eyes open to the little signs of glory and truth that lie around me in the everyday, some days nothing much catches my eye or sinks in. Today was one of those days, my attention too divided for anything in particular to arrest me. So I found myself tonight looking back over photos from the long weekend just passed to see if anything could be a worthy subject for a reflection. This one caught my eye, an image of tall native grass that grows in the wetlands by the Werribee River just a few kilometres downstream from my house.

It reminded me of the many places in scripture when humanity is compared to grass: beautiful in its day but impermanent. Trying to locate one of these verses I found myself turning to Psalm 103, which contains these words:

The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more. (v.15-16

Taken by themselves these words could sound heartless, devaluing of human life. But in the psalm itself they are wedged between declarations of God’s fatherly and everlasting love:

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust. (v13-14)

And then:

But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him. (v.17)

We might fade from the Earth’s memory as quickly as grass, but not from God’s. He holds us in His covenant of love from generation to generation, from everlasting to everlasting, even though we are dust.

The beauty God gives to temperary things is an instructive lesson in this. God values even the briefest flower, the shortest glance of a sunset. And, what’s more, He takes our momentary days and bestows eternal significance upon them.

It was fitting that, while my brain was drawn to verse 15, the verse of the day that appeared on Bible Gateway as I went in search of Psalm 103 was in fact verse 13: As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…I may not have had eyes open much to see God in the small details of my day, but He had eyes open to see me, and He loves what He sees. May I see through the eyes of His love tomorrow.

The Weeping Prophet

Rembrandt van Rijn, “Jeremiah weeps over the destruction of Jerusalem”, c.1630
To be a pariah takes only hate
and the unshaken conviction that you,
above all others,
are right.

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.

Advent with the Prophet Jonah: Day 18

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.

Broken, new

Everything breaks,
is broken, or
sticks underfoot like porridge.
Voice grows tired, and
heart turns wild
at the endless, savage
price of love.
Crushed underfoot,
I learn Eden and Golgotha
while I wipe the floor again.
Body breaks, is broken,
tomorrow is new.

Ubi Caritas: For World Mental Health Day

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.
Nothing happens;
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
tomorrow
and do
what love has done today.

After Curfew

Bins at the curb, I pause
in a night of deep quiet
and catch
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.

Till We Have Our Faces Back

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.

Love

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.

And who is my neighbour?

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?
Van Gogh, The Good Samaritan